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I. The Fabric of History

II. The Hegemonic Crisis of the City of Angels

III. The Realignment of the Lao as their power disintegrates

IV. Many Provocations and Anou's response

V. The Opening phases of the 1827 campaign

VI. The Military phase of the 1827 campaign

VII. Maps of LanXang

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The Military Phase of the 1827 Campaign


 

39. The first reverse: the skirmish of Thong Samrit and the battle of Mun Kheng


Like so many disputed battles throughout history, that which took place on the plain of Phimai has been given different names. Influenced by Chaophraya T'hiphakorawong's chapter entitled, 'Lady Mo's Struggle With Anou's Army," Thai historiographers have interpreted it as an act of resistance by the Khorat population at Thong Sannit.1 Lao participants in this conflict have called it the battle of Phirnai,2 while the chroniclers of the Phiin viang and the Phongsawadan yasothon named it after the Lao camp at Mun Kheng,3 on the shore of the Lain Sung Krai river. This variety of references is understandable since the action unfolded successively in three different locations.

Although these were among the bloodiest battles of the 1827 campaign, the encounters in the Phimai region did not constitute a turning point in the war. This is true in spite of the fact that the Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign, by Chaophraya T'hiphakorawong, suggests a link between the skirmish of Thong Samrit and Anou's retreat from Khorat. This interpretation is impossible to sustain because Chao Anou withdrew his armies from Khorat before knowing the outcome of the only battle taking place there,4 and he considered it to be easily won.

Phraya Yokkrabat, an offical loyal in Khorat, led the last contingent of Khorat inhabitants who departed the town under Anou's evacuation order. They were


I Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 46.

2 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 12,26,28.

3 Phongsawadan muang yasothon (1969) (T), p. 75.

4 See, for example, Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 46-58; Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 87-90. The Thong Samrit skirmish was more of a police action that ended badly for the organized forces. Other revolts also occurred during the evacuation ordered by the Lao, and there were revolts that took place on the Thai side. Only the Thong Samrit case has been blown out of proportion. Revolts occurred frequently in the early nineteenth century in the region. For example, in 1826, the inhabitants of Khukhan were removed from their town by the governor of Khorat. They revolted, and returned to their village. During the conflict of 1827, a rebellion broke out against the Lao at Sisaket. The people of Sisaket killed all the guards assigned by Chao Yo, andthen quietly returned to their town. In the north, some people revolted against Anou's nephew, Chao Nokham.

 



39. The first reverse: the skirmish of Thong Samrit and the battle of Mun Kheng


escorted and guarded by Lao police, commanded by Phya Ramphisai.5 Upon arrival in the Phirnai region, they joined with men under the leadership of Chao Siwo who were fleeing the region of Suwannaphurn in an evacuation decreed by Lao Vice King Tissa.6 According to Siamese officials, nearly the entire population of Suwannaphum had already been removed to the capital of Laos.7

These evacuations helped Phraya Plat, the deputy-govemor of Khorat, pull off a ruse to deceive the Lao suggested by his chief. Plat left his refuge at Ban Chong Kan to surrender himself to Anou in his camp in Khorat. There Plat pledged to Anou that he would follow his people to Vientiane.8 Anou agreed to permit this, probably without knowing that Phraya Plat had with him a contingent of soldiers from the governor of Khorat's army.9 After meeting up with Phraya Yokkrabat near Khorat, Phraya Plat asked that all present Khorat officials assemble immediately. He then ordered them to reverse their march and to wait for the Bangkok army. On February 25, 1827, a few days after the Lao entered Khorat, Phraya Plat sent a request to Battambang, a Siamese stronghold in Khmer territory, asking for more Khorat men to return and help him.10 Then, Plat returned to Anou's camp to convince him that the evacuees were exhausted and unable to walk further. He argued that they needed their knives and axes returned, as well as nine to ten flintlocks to hunt for food. With an arresting generosity, Anou gave his approval.11 Made confident by Anou's clemency and the kindness shown by their forty Lao police guards, Phraya Plat's men massacred their Lao escort. Plat sent the following report to the governor of Khorat.


After leaving the [Khorat] camp of Chao Anou of Vientiane, Phraya Plat immediately left in pursuit of the [Khorat] families that he could join at Ban Lum Khao on the fourth month, third day of the waning moon [Thursday March 15, 1827]. Phraya Plat had the families gather at Ban Prasat on the fifth day of the waning moon of the fourth month [Saturday March 17, 1827]. Phraya Yokkrabat, Luang Muang, Luang Plat Phimai, Maha Phraya Plat of Ban Prasat, Phra Narongdesa, Luang Vang, Luang Na, and Khun Inthonsupha, as well as the senior villagers, were able to gather nine thousand able-bodied men who received the order to turn back and to take up positions on the plain of Thong Ban Sanuit, and to capture and kill the forty Lao guards. Phraya Plat, Phraya Yokkrabat, and all the officials present


5 Chotmaihet rilang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 12. According to Phagna Narin's testimony, Chao Anou had said to him that there were two thousand Lao policemen. This was probably a slip of the tongue or error of transcription, since Anou had assigned two hundred policemen for the evacuation of the five thousand inhabitants of Khorat. It is more certain that only forty Lao police (one-fifth their original strength) remained with the last group to be evacuated from Khorat, since both Khorat and Bangkok officials agree on that number. The number of police remaining also suggests that approximately one-fifth of Khorat's population remained in the area when the Thong Samrit skirmish took place.

6 TNL Document Rama III (9) 1188/20; Kulap (1971) (T), p. 216.

7 The population of Suwannaphum at that time has been estimated at 750 people. See Burney Papers, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 4; TNL Document Rama IH (84) 1189/ ching.

8 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), pp. 46-47.

9 Ruam riiang Muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 42. 10 TNL Document Rama HI (2) 1188/1. 11 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 46.

 


39. The first reverse: the skirmish of Thong Samrit and the battle of Mun Kheng

 

share the conviction that they should confront and defeat the Vientiane army; therefore, they have decided to entrench at Ban Thong Sannit. When the governor of Khorat receives this letter, he should be urged to rush immediately to Ban Samrit by night-and-day march in order to attack the army of the prince of Vientiane. 12


This report helps clarify the balance of forces between the camps of Phraya Plat and Anou. The Lao side was completely aimless and confused. In fact, the Lao effort to establish their independence from Rama III had to this point been so covert that the Lao often hid their struggle under the guise of helping Rama III against the British, the Vietnamese, the Burmese, Lan Na, or even to thwart Bowon's coup. In contrast, Plat's side had winning morale, relatively large battalions (though probably not nine thousand men), and a clear goal: "to be able to retake their home, from which they have been expelled.,,13

It is unlikely that Phraya Plat would be able to gather nine thousand able-bodied men-not including the "ten thousand young of both sexes,' that, according to Khorat official Khun 0, were also present. The population of Khorat, as previously noted, was only about five thousand. Of this number at least three thousand had already been evacuated to Vientiane with Luang Chamrcen. That leaves a maximum of two thousand available-several thousand short. There are no documents available to clarify this mystery.14 Oddly enough, Phraya Plat himself later gave evidence to support this much more modest figure, for he says that he had two thousand me n when he entered Khorat after defeating Sutthisan.

From the beginning of the war, the army of Bangkok, not the troops of the governor of Khorat, maintained a strong presence in the Khorat Plateau. This is evidenced by the interception of several Lao communications (dispatches from Chao Ratsavong at Khorat, Tissa at Kalasin, Sutthisan at Khorat, Phraya Krai Songkhram at Khukhan, and Luang Plat of Muang Surin at Suwannaphum) and of letters from the governor and officials of Khorat.15 In addition, Siamese officers coming from Battambang could travel safely to Ban Nong Pru and Ban Nang Rong on March 4 and 5, 1827, approximately two weeks before Phraya Plat rallied the Khorat contingent at Ban Prasat.16 Ban Nang Rong is situated below Ban Prasat and Thong Samrit and was an ideal channel used to route troops from Battambang-where Siam


12 TNL Document Rama III (14) 1188/20; Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 166; Ruam ruang Muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 36.

13 TNL Document Rama HI (84) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching.

14 There are no original documents that relate to the 1827 conflict at the Thai National Library under the file 'Documents of the Third Reign." Furthermore, all but one are copies made during the reign of Rama V (King Chulalongkom). The single copy not made during the reign of Chulalongkorn covers the testimony of the inhabitants of Mahachai. See call number (90) 1190/3. Moreover, some material relating to the conflict is still considered to be highly sensitive and has not been declassified despite the fact that other documents became available for King Rama III's bicentennial celebration in 1987.

15 Ruam raang Muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 35.

16 TNL Document Rama III (2) 1188/1. The front guard of the First Army, led by Phraya Chasaenyakon, and the Second Army, under Phraya Ratchasuphawadi, successfully carried out a joint maneuver to capture Nong Pru from the Lao. Nong Pru is located a half-day walk from Phimai, where Tissa fought desperately, and Nangrong, the gateway to the battlefield where Sutthisan engaged in battle. Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 20.

 



39. The first reverse: the skirmish of Thong Samrit and the battle of Mun Kheng

 

was preparing an offensivel7 -to Thong Samrit/Phirnai. That this route was safe for travel indicates that the Siamese had established a presence throughout Phimai.

Indeed, Lao rulers acknowledged the extent of the regular Siamese army's influence in the Phimai area, even at Thong Samrit. In a letter to the court of Hu6, Chao Anou wrote, "The Siamese armies have pursued the king of Lan Sang and captured those gathered at Ban Cham-Lat [Samrit]."18 The prince of Siang Khuang, Chao Noi, testified to the officials of the court of Hue that "the king of Lan Sang had struggled against the Siamese armies at Phi Hai [Phimail, but his forces were too few, and unable to stand up to the Siamese armies, so he [Anou retreated to Tam Dong."19 Lao Vice King Tissa recalled, "Two or three months ago, Anou had fought against the Siamese armies at the camp of Phimai and, not being able to offer resistance, he fell back to Lakhon [Nakhon Phanom.,20

Thai contemporaries had a similar perception of power relations in the area. Phra Khlang wrote in a letter to his counterpart at the court of Hue that the military action at Thong Samrit constituted a strong show of force by Bangkok, whose army had successfully launched a multi-directional attack with troops under the respective commands of Bodin, Bowon, the governor of Khorat (leading a coalition force of thirteen towns), the ruler of Luang Prabang, and the ruler of the Hua muang lao phung dam (Lao of the black bellies) of Lan Na.21 The Yasothon chronicle, however, provides a different perspective. In contrast to Phra Khlang's boastful description of Siam's coalition force, it describes a ruthless two-front battle that the Lao fought against troops from Khorat and the regular forces of Bangkok, commanded by Bodin.79 There is also evidence that Khmer forces were involved in the fighting.23

In staging this battle, the Siamese forces strategically selected a battlefield that was sandy, where "carts disappear up to their hubs."24 This prevented Lao troops from making use of their cavalry, but allowed the Thai to take full advantage of their infantry. After Anou learned of the murder of the Lao policemen by Phraya Plat's soldiers, he wanted to divide the mass of the Khorat evacuees into a number of smaller, more manageable groups. On March 19, 1827, Anou sent a contingent of police to carry out this effort.25 In response, the Thai side lined up eight thousand men who, upon seeing the Lao advance, went boldly forward to meet them. The Thai handily defeated the Lao police and gained control of the battlefield. Casualty


17 TNL Document Rama III (69) 1189/11 chan.

18 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 2.

19 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 28.

20 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 26.

21 Ruam rfiang Muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 41-42.

22 Phongsawadan Muang yasothon (1969) (T), p. 75.

23 The Siamese commander Bowon did not focus on the Lao or Bangkok troops, but on the Khmer contingent. He deplored the fact that the Khmer had suffered great losses. Kulap (1971) (T), p. 286. The losses mentioned by Bowon could only have come during the struggle on the Phimai plain, in which the autonomous corps of Khmer, led by Phraya Wisetsunthon, Phraya Sisitthisongkhramrat, and Phraya Siem Reap, participated in Bodin's army. This conclusion is drawn because published and unpublished archival documents make no mention of any engagement between Khmer and Lao troops.

24 Camd (1869), P. 472.

25 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 47. The number of police sent is disputed. Thiphakorawong claims only fifty, while Phraya Plat says it was one thousand.

 



 

reports on the Lao side ranged from one hundred to eight hundred dead. The losses from the Thai side were not reported.

Reevaluating his plans, Anou judged that he could settle the matter once and for all if he sent Chao Sutthisan to the area with all available operational forces. A Lao prisoner under interrogation recalled Anou's simple but decisive order: "kill all the men and transport only the women to Vientiane."26 Sources differ on the number of soldiers who participated in this battle. Sutthisan had two thousand soldiers with two hundred firearms, according to the figure given by Anou.27 Chaophraya Thiphakorawong estimated the Lao army at three thousand; Phraya Plat claimed there were six thousand, while his conunissioner, Khun 0, claimed there were five thousand Lao soldiers.28 In any case, the Lao arrived near the Lam Siing Krai River at nightfall and camped there that evening. Near dawn on March 21, 1827, the Thai rushed the Lao and commenced a battle that lasted until five in the evening. The Lao casualties, according to a report that reached Anou, talhed more than six hundred dead, approximately thirty percent of the force engaged on the battlefield. Thai sources obfuscate their own losses and claim that the Thai soldiers killed one to two thousand Lao (the number varies depending on the source). Regardless of the mortality figures, Thai forces captured the battlefield. According to the standards at the time, such losses amounted to a massive slaughter. Until then even the most murderous fighting had sacrificed no more than forty.29 Khun 0 reported the following to his troops: 'I have been told that Sutthisan came down from his horse and was killed. I could only see his firearm and the bullets; all gold." In actuality, Sutthisan did not die during this fight, but fled to Vientiane with the survivors to join Anou at Lam Pa Chi.30

Sutthisan's defeat was further compounded by the events of the following day. On March 22, five Lao cavalrymen were ambushed and killed. One of the Lao soldiers had been carrying a message from Tissa that explained the details of a plan


26 Such orders were not unusual during warfare in the early nineteenth century. Siam's behavior in Kedah was identical, as reported by Newbold (1839), vol. 2, p. 4: 'The Siamese in 1821 killed most of the males, and carried the women and children into captivity." In regards to the implementation of Anou's order, the Lao military establishment was less optimistic; and sensing that Anou had lost touch with reality, his senior commander, Phagna Sanon, took it upon himself to send eight messengers on four war elephants to urge Tissa (at Suwannaphum) and Chao Yo (at Sisaket) to rally to Khorat to support Sutthisan, who was struggling against the Thai. Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 2, p. 70.

27 That Sutthisan led two thousand troops seems likely. A Lao taken prisoner at the Mun Kheng battle confirmed that Anou had only three thousand men remaining with him. Sutthisan's force of two thousand, and Anou's three thousand joined with the one thousand sent with Chao Ratsavong to Lomsak and another one thousand led by Chao Thong and Chao Suvan who had been sent to help Chao Yo in Ubon, altogether, these numbers combine to make up the force of seven thousand soldiers who accompanied Anou to Khorat, as officials in Khorat wrote in their report.

28 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), pp. 47-48.

29 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 227: 'He [the Phra Khlang] then asked us whether there had been as many as forty men killed at the battle of Waterloo. We told him that nearly as many as a thousand had been killed, at which he seemed thunderstruck, and uttered an exclamation of surprise."

30 The two Khorat officials, Phraya Plat and Khun 0 (Plat's commissioner), differ in their reports on the number of dead and even the dates of the event. Chaophraya Thiphakorawong claimed that the Lao lost two thousand men. A Siamese general staff dispatch confirmed that Sutthisan fled the battle alive. Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 9.

 



 

to send 150 elephants to Anou, who had already left Khorat by the time Sutthisan confronted the Thai forces, in order to assist in the transporting of Khorat families to Vientiane. Seventy elephants were captured by the Thai and the same number of Lao soldiers were killed during the arnbush.31 On April 2, 1827, Phraya Plat entered Khorat with two thousand people. It is said that, on the same day, he went mad and galloped nude out of town. He was gone for four days.32
 

40. THE BATTLEFIELD OF PHETCHABUN-LOMSAK-LOEI-SIANG KHAN


While Chao Anou and Sutthisan struggled against Bangkok's forces on the Phimai plain, another Lao leader, Chao Ratsavong, was marching toward Lomsak. The effect of Chao Ratsavong's arrival in Lomsak on March 21, 1827 was felt immediately in Bangkok. Upon learning on March 28, 1827, that the Lao of Lomsak had struggled resolutely against the Thai offensive, the Siamese King Rama III offered these thoughts: 'The Lao of Lomsak are not strong enough to fight as they do. It appears that it is rather the ratsavong of Vientiane who pushes them to do si." 33 It is true that Chao Ratsavong may also have been motivated by a rumor that Anou had threatened to behead him if he failed to exterminate the third Siamese army. Regardless, Rama III's judgment -of the Lomsak population was marred by his inability to appreciate the anti-Siamese sentiment that had erupted decades earlier following the deportation of Lao from Vientiane after the Siamese toppled Nanthasen. This sentiment persisted among the people in the region. Despite being ruled by a Thai governor at Phetchabun, the Lomsak people never fully resigned themselves to their fate. Even after the disappearance of the kingdom of Vientiane, they would continue to resist Bangkok's efforts to replace Vientiane's old system of administration and taxation.34 Chao Ratsavong seized the opportunity to confront the Siamese third army at what was called by contemporaries "the defense [point] of the eastern shore of the Loei river."35 In this engagement, Chao Ratsavong was assisted by the best of the Lao military establishment: Phagna Sanon, the kingdom of Vientiane's Minister of War; Phagna Supho, Chief of the Lao General- Staff; Phagna Upparat; Chao Muang Sung; Phagna Siang Tai; and Phya Muang Sai. Some sources claim that Chao Ratsavong lined up five thousand men, armed with 450 rifles and one mortar. 36

A fortress was erected for the defense of Lomsak.37 One eyewitness reported that the governor of Lomsak, Phagna Suryawongsa, had established a camp of one thousand men in two villages in Phetchabun. An official of the town, Luang Tianban, joined them with his supporters.38 These two camps must have been the ones named


31 The reports of Phraya Plat and Khun 0 appear, edited, in Ruam ruang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 29-31; Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 158-159,161-163.

32 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 13.

33 TNL Document Rama III (54) 1189/11, vol. 2.

34 Snit and Breazeale (1988), p. 140.

35 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/11 chan.

36 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam(1987) (T), vol. 3, pp. 28, 50.

37 TNL Document Rama III (79) 1189/11 ngu.

38 TNL Document Rama III (47) 1189/11 khwai.

 


 

40. THE BATTLEFIELD OF PHETCHABUN-LOMSAK-LoEI-SIANG KHAN


Nayom and Thong Na Sakiang. The camp of Thong Na Sakiang, located about one hundred meters from Phetchabun, was commanded by the ratsavong of Lomsak, assisted by Khattiya, the upparat of Lcei, as well as by Khong and Nu.39 Those in command of the strategic camps of Nayom and Thong Na Sakiang controlled the two passageways coming from the Menam Chaophraya valley and the communication route to Nong Bua Lam Phu.

On March 26,1827, the Nayom camp fell under an attack conducted by Siamese leaders Phraya Wichiannarong, Phraya Phichaisongkhram, Phraya Borirakratcha, and Phraya Narongdesa. A Thai who had sided with the Lao was beheaded and his head was fixed on a pole.40 The camps of Sakiang and Phetchabun fell at the same time. Chao Ratsavong then ordered Saen Khamphong to gather people from Loei, Kaen Thao, Muang Ham, and Nakhon Thai, and send them to Ban Nalak in Loei territory. Then, in accord with Anou's order, all houses and granaries in the evacuated areas were burnt.41

The commander of the third Siamese army, Chaophraya Aphaiphuthon, joined forces with contingents in the north of Siam. These forces, led by Phraya Phetphichai and Phraya Kraikosa, mobilized for the attack on Lomsak, which was still under Chao Ratsavong's control. Nearly twelve thousand men were readied to combat Ratsavong's twelve hundred.42 Lomsak fell on April 2, 1827. Its governor, Phagna Suryawongsa, was the last to leave the town which had been set ablaze.43 The Lomsak ruler then took the route leading to Nong Bua Lam Phu, where Siamese commander Bowon impatiently awaited reinforcements from the Siamese army.

The Siamese army followed Chao Ratsavong after he left Lomsak and another battle ensued.44 Although Ratsavong put up a stiff resistance at Ban Rae, in Lcei territory, two phagna, including Phagna Phonsak Kom Tai, as well as many in the Lao rank a nd file, lost their lives.45 Retreating again, Chao Ratsavong set up an impressive fortress at Paeng Hak, a strategically located site situated in the plain of Muang Loei, protected by mountains, a five-day walk from Lomsak and a two-day walk from Nong Bua Lam Phu. The fortress itself was twenty-four hundred square meters (six sen) and was fortified with seventeen towers.46

From Paeng Hak, Chao Ratsavong traveled to Nong Bua Lam Phu to ask for reinforcements. Anou sent him two thousand men by April 20, via pathways


39 TNL Document Rama III (66) 1189/11 khwai. Throughout this chapter, we refer to the upparat, the ratsavong, and the ratsabut of different towns. These are titles designating the three highest officials of a region listed in order of importance. The only official exceeding the upparat in power would be the governor himself.

40 Phraya Narongdesa lost a hand in combat. For details of this fierce battle, see TNL Document Rama III (13) 1188/20; Document Rama M (65) 1189/11 khwai; Document Rama III (14) 1188/20.

41 TNL Document Rama HI (64) 1189/11 khwai; Document Rama III (47) 1189/16.

42 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 60.

43 TNL Document Rama III (59) 1189/11 khai. This seems to contradict the common assertion (and TNL Document Rama UL 1213/43, Memorandum on the history of Lomsak from 1767 to 1836) that the governor of Lomsak had been beheaded by Anou for failure to cooperate. One clue indicating that the governor of Lomsak had taken the Lao side is that none of his descendants were appointed to official posts after 1827.

44 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4.

45 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), vol. 3, p. 112.

46 TNL Document Rama III (27) 1189/10; Document Rama III (73) 1189/11 chan.

 


 

40. THE BATTLEFIELD OF PHETCHABUN-LOMSAK-LOEI-SIANG KHAN


crossing Ban Rae and Loei.47 Thus, the strength of Ratsavong's renewed forces totaled five thousand.48

Meanwhile, the Bangkok army reorganized to confront the remaining Lao forces. By April 10, 1827, the representatives from Lampang and Phra- were at Phraya Phetphichai's camp at Ban Rae, the site of Ratsavong's most recent defeat.49 Before establishing this camp, Phraya Phetphichai himself had detoured through Ban Rae from Lornsak on April 13 to rally the forces of Lan Na, who were still unsure on which side they should fight.-IO By April 18,1827, the ratsavong of Nan and Phagna Pha, the representative of Chiang Mai, had been introduced to Phraya Phetphichai. The commander of the Third Siamese Army, Chaophraya Aphaiphuthon, departed from Lomsak, which he left guarded by one hundred men, and arrived in Loei territory on April 27, 1827. Finally, the representative from Luang Prabang arrived last.51 All these officials waited at Muang Ham for the turning point in the test of strength between the Lao of Vientiane and the Bangkok army.52

The Loei battle lasted for 'two days and a night," according to a Vientiane official captured during the fighting. He also maintained that the Lao offered stiff resistance to the forces of Phraya Phetphichai, but Thai firepower, p articularly salvos of incendiary rockets, overwhehned Lao defenses. When on April 22, 1827 Ratsavong had to abandon his camp, he lay exposed to the enemy's fire.53 It was also on this day that fresh Bangkok troops arrived in Loei. These troops were led by Phraya Borirakratcha, Phraya Narongdesa, Phraya Sukhothai, Phraya Karnphoengphet, and Phraya Phichit, all from Lomsak; and Luang Ritdecha, Luang Asaphuthon, and Phraya Narongsongkhram from Phitsanulok. Chao Ratsavong fell back and took up a position at Siang Khan on the eastern shore of the Mekong River, one day's walk from Loei. 54

Replying to Chao Ratsavong's newest demand for reinforcements, Anou said, "Where does he want me to get them, particularly now that Chiang Mai is going to launch an attack against me?,,55 Unable to secure reinforcements, Chao Ratsavong set up a camp at Siang Khan to protect the inhabitants brought from the western side of the river. 56 He then withdrew to add his troops to those defending Thong Sompoi- Khao San. However, the commanders of the third Siamese army did not realize Chao


47 Anou sent the men before he left Nong Bua Larn Phu for Vientiane on April 20, 1827. TNL Document Rama III (47) 1189/16; Document Rama III (64) 1189/11 khwai. Another eyewitness, however, reported that Anou left Nong Bua Larn Phu on April 15 or 16. See TNL Document Rama III (29) 1189/10.

48 TNL Document Rama III (64) 1189 / 11 khwai.

49 TNL Document Rama III (66) 1189/11 khwai. ,

50 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4. ,

51 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4 khwai. ,

52 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4.

53 TNL Document Rama III (64) 1189/11 khwai. -

54 Siang Khan's name was later changed to Sanakham. TNL Document Rama III (47) 1189/16.

55 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), p. 30.

56 Aymonier (1885), pp. 115-16. It seems that what an archaeological team discovered in 1975 in Sanakham (formerly Siang Khan) were the remains of fortifications dating from Anou's time, not from the Ho invasion at the end of the nineteenth century. The historical site comprises seven military camps surrounded by moats and terraces. See Bayard (1976), p. 6. The Ho constructed nothing, and even in Vientiane they were content to barricade themselves in Wat Chan, where they were massacred by Siamese troops.

 


 

40. THE BATTLEFIELD OF PHETCHABUN-LOMSAK-LoEI-SIANG KHAN


Ratsavong had repositioned his troops, so they prepared to attack him at Siang Khan.57 When they finally learned the truth, the third Siamese army came back by way of Loei and Dan Sai-Lomsak 58 to rescue Bowon. It was here that they became locked in the critical battle at Thong Sornpoi-Khao San, the turning point of the war.

The Lomsak-Loei campaign of 1827 was seen as a significant defeat for the Lao, not only because they lost row to row, but also because they were unable to exterminate the third Siamese army and prevent it from joining and reinforcing the first Siamese army.59 Despite their defeat in this conflict, the Lao soldiers under the command of Chao Ratsavong convincingly demonstrated their bravery and tenacity. This image of strong will in the face of defeat is symbolized in Thao lao kham phun, Chao ratsavong, in which the Laotian chief is portrayed as a Phoenix:


The handsome prince [Chao Ratsavong] brandished his si khan sai [sword] of tempered steel ... sowing carnage amidst the Thai. They gathered soon in great number to capture the handsome prince, who rapidly vanished and no one knew in what direction he had gone. The Thai mobilized one million men to encircle him from all sides. The prince waved his si khan sai and launched an unexpected attack. The Thai perished in great number. They were panicking, struggling in the void, without seeing where the prince was. The sovereign of the Thai country was overcome with sadness: "I surrender' [he said to himself] "to the prince of the lineage of Vientiane. We have fought the prince for just two months, but we have not subdued him even once. On the contrary, he wins each time." 60

In other words, Chao Ratsavong's leadership in the battle has been remembered as a heroic and stoic response to an overwhelming situation.
 

41. THE DEATH OF A FLAMBOYANT CHIEF AND THE MARTYRDOM OF A HERO


Before the conflict of 1827, Phagna Narin was chief of the village of Si Mum (now Chaturat), a village of one hundred people situated near Khorat and functioning as a dependency of Khorat. Phagna Narin had met with Anou at Ban Done San,61 and Anou sent him with the governor of Sakon Nakhon to reassemble the evacuated population upstream from Khorat and to lead it to Sam Moo, located on the route to Vientiane. On March 24,1827, Phagna Narin received Anou's order to set up camp at Ban Thaen, near Phu Khieo. He was still at work when Anou re-deployed his troops

57 Chotmaihet ritang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 15; Thap (1930) (T), p. 80.

58 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4; Document Rama III (47) 1189/16. The commander of the Third army, Chaophraya Aphaiphuthon, died in Vientiane on June 13, 1827. See TNL Document Rama III (M 1189/11 ching. For confirmation, see Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101.

59 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 78.

60 Archaimbault (1980), p. 151.

61 Thap (1930) (T) has given the most plausible scenario. See also TNL Document Rama III (25) 1189/4 kai; Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 11.

 


 

40. THE DEATH OF A FLAMBOYANT CHIEF AND THE MARTYRDOM OF A HERO


from Khorat and came to join him. Together they made the trip through Phu Wiang to Nong Bua Lam Phu, with its one hundred houses.62

Nong Bua Lam Phu was traditionally given as appenage to the crown prince of Lan Sang. Chao Anou designated Phagna Narin the governor of this place, famous in the history of the mainland for being the spot where the king-liberator of Siam, Naresuan, came in the sixteenth century to learn the outcome of the war between the Lao and the Burmese in the Vientiane region. The imposing size of the Nong Bua Lam Phu fortress, designed by Anou and built by Phagna Narin and Sutthisan,63 made a deep impression on all contemporaries.64

In addition to Phagna Narin, Anou's followers were comprised of seasoned leaders including the governor of Saraburi, the governor of Muang Pak (now Pak Thong Chai), the governor of Phu Khieo, and the governor of Chaiyaphum.65 But the rank and file encompassed new recruits, about whom the court of Bangkok circulated the following joke recalled by Archbishop Panegoix: "I have been told that at the last war against Siam, it was very amusing to see the Lao two-by-two, the one holding the flintlock while the other, who fired it, closed his eyes, and turned his head with the shot, and asked thuk bo (hit or miss?). The other replied: bo thuk (Complete MiSS).,,66 However, inexperience did not hinder their courage in facing the professional Bangkok soldiers. According to Phagna Narin, the defenders numbered twenty-three hundred, equipped with 190 flintlocks and accompanied by eight hundred relatives.67 The contingent included one hundred people from Si Mum, and seventy inhabitants of Khorat selected by Anou. The last contingent sent by Anou numbered three hundred to four hundred men who came from Chonnabot and included the following Chonnabot officials: the upparat, Muang Chan and Muang Saen; the ratsavong; and the son of the governor of Chonnabot who remained with the rest at Ban Khang. Sent along with them were men from Ban Narai, a satellite of Khorat; Ban Khon Khuang near Saraburi; Phetchabun with Miln Phloeng and Luang Tianban; Lomsak with Phagna Suryawongsa; Roi Et; Kalasin; Ban Chik; Ban Phao; Phuthaisong; and lastly thirty to forty soldiers from Vientiane were sent with Phagna Singhanat, the deputy of Phagna Narin. In addition, every inhabitant between


62 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 37. Sam Moo pass was the furthest point of the area traditionally considered Lao. An old saying mentions: 'The journey from Ayudhya to Lan Sang, once across the Nam Chi River and the Sam Moo pass, will meet the Lao of Vientiane and Luang Prabang setting their border colonies from time immemorial." Kham (1980a) (L), vol. 3, p.76.

63 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p.78

64 It was twelve hundred by 620 meters (thirty sen in length by sixteen in width). The ramparts were constructed by logs four meters high and seventy-five to one hundred centimeters in diameter, linked together by rope through holes bored at the ends of the logs. Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), v.3, p.37. Its construction was state-of-the-art for the time and was built to withstand sieges, the staple of traditional Southeast Asian warfare. Moats strengthened the external defense of the fortress, and the fortress was large enough to enclose an entire village and the river crossing it. Its characteristics can be advantageously compared to a fortress built in Chiang Mai to withstand the Burmese onslaught in 1802. Wenk (1968), p.86.

65 Chotmiahet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), vol. 3, p.80.

66 Pallegoix (1836), p. 52.

67 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 12-13.

 



40. THE DEATH OF A FLAMBOYANT CHIEF AND THE MARTYRDOM OF A HERO

sixteen and seventy old from Phu Khieo and Chaiyaphum was integrated in the defense of the camp of Nong Bua Lam Phu.68 One eyewitness noted that "the Lao," as he identified them, came primarily from Ban Phao, Ban Chik, Nong Bua Lam Phu and Muang Si Mum, and carried a small number of flinklocks. The "prisoners," as the eyewitness called those who were not volunteers, had to make their own lances and wooden mallets to use as weapons against the Thai soldiers advancing on the fort.69 According to the Bangkok officers besieging the Lao, "numerical insufficiency and absence of cohesion" caused the fall of Nong Bua Lam Phu.70 Those factors were only part of the problem.

On May 3, 1827, when the advancing Bangkok troops encountered the twenty Lao posted as lookouts at Sam Moo, Phagna Singhanat immediately organized a party of one hundred men with 130 flintlocks to test the Thai. Meanwhile, Phagna Narin and his deputy went down with four hundred men and forty-nine flintlocks to Ban Lat to burn all the granaries alogn the route the Siamese army would take.71 The same day, the Lao advance post at Phu Khieo was taken by the Thai. The defenders came to inform Phagna Narin, who hurried up to Nong Bua Lam Phu, arriving at dawn. The fall of another Lao advance post at Phu Wiang was particularly upsetting since the Lao had not expected the Thai army to approach from that direction. Comingg from Khorat, the Thai army took an unusual route through Phimai, Thogn Samrit, and Khon Kaen to Phu Wiang and surprised the Lao by their use of an alternate route to Nong Bua Lam Phu.72 This army, approachign the rear of Nong Bua Lam Phu from Phu Wiang, must have begun its deployment quite early because it arrived before Bowon's troops, which had taken the direct route from Khorat. The Thai army that advanced to Phu Wiang was problbly the same force that had engaged Sutthisan's troops at Mun Kheng and that had been guided by a Khon Kaen official.

Faced with this urgent situation, Phagna Narin sent messenger after messenger to Anou asking him to take counter-measures. Finally, he had to send Anou's son, Sutthisan, to explain the untenable situation at NOgn Bua Lam Phu and to persuade Anou to redeploy defenses at Khao San pass before it was too late. The Lao at NOng bua Lam Phu were in danger of becoming entrapped by the superioro firepower and sheer numbers of the Thai forces.73 A positive, forceful response to this request for help might have enabled the Lao to avoidd a premature and aimless defeat and preserved their morale and strength for the expected struggle at Thong Sompoi-Khao San. However, the situation evolved so rapiedly at Nong Bua Lam Phu that even offers of reinforcements from Tissa and from Sutthisan could not arrive in time to


 

68. Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p.34. Its figures differ from those given on p.27. See also TNL Document Rama III(26) 1189/4 kai, For the hometowns of the defenders of Nong Bua Lam Phu, see Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 12-13, 17, 28-29, 34; TNL Document Rama III (25) 1189/4 kai; Document Rama III (29) 1189/10; Document Rama III (23) 1189/4 kai; Document Rama III (47) 1189/16.

69 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 29, 31.

70 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 244.

71 Thap (1930) (T), p. 77; Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p.13; Prachum Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1930) (T), pp. 75-77. Ban Lat is located mid-way between Khorat and Nong Bua Lam Phu.

72 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p.61.

73 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p.53, 14.

 



 

40. THE DEATH OF A FLAMBOYANT CHIEF AND THE MARTYRDOM OF A HERO


assist Phagna Narin-74 In a maneuver initiated on May 3, 1827, the Thai troops encircled and isolated Phagna Narin.75 In spite of this situation, Phagna Narin and Phagna Singhanat placed soldiers at each point of the fortress, and restlessly rode their horses around the camp to inspect the troops' disposition and to exhort e veryone to do his duty with these words: "If the Thai troops invade the camp, you must smash them with wooden mallets or transfix them with lances hardened with fire. Those who abandon their posts and let the Thai forces penetrate into the camp will be executed. "76

Bodin recalled in his Me?noirs that the battle for Nong Bua Lam Phu lasted three days and three nights.77 There is some controversy over the exact number of Thai troops engaged in the battle. A Chinese merchant from SarabUri78 said that the Thai troops numbered thirty thousand, while Phagna Muang Chan, Anou's envoy to the court of Hu6, contended that twenty thousand Thai converged on Nong Bua Lam Phu from three different directions.79 Probably relying on accounts by Chaophraya Thiphakorawong and Phraya Pramuanwichaphun,80 Lao historians such as Maha Sila Viravong and Chao Khamrnan Vongkotrattana maintain that eighty-four hundred Thai troops, divided in six wings, were involved8l; however, these six wings probably constituted only one part of the assaulting forces that advanced along the Khorat-Phu Khieo route through Ban Tad Tok. In support of this estimate, we note that Momchao Thap, a Siamese field commander, claimed eight thousand men took the Khorat-Phu Khieo route and began to deploy from Ban Phrao, located a half-day's walk from Nong Bua Lam Phu. These troops included artillery corps composed exclusively of Christians (Portuguese descendants), followed by Burmese mercenaries in their traditional dress, and by soldiers with halberds.82 The other route, Khorat-Khon Kaen-Nong Bua Lam Phu, was used both by the Japanese mercenaries mentioned by Bodin83 and by criminal units liberated from prison by the court of Bangkok.84 Bowon made them follow a road different from that of the regular army to cross the Dong Phraya Fai range. After Khorat, Bowon then sent them on suicide missions to attack the rear of the Lao forces at Nong Bua Lam Phu and later at Khao San.


74 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 17.

75 TNL Document Rama HI (29) 1189/10. According to Thiphakorawong, however, the battle of Nong Bua Lam Phu began on the sixth day of the waxing moon (Tuesday May 1, 1827) and ended on the ninth day of the waxing moon (Friday May 4,1827). Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 57.

76 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 31.

77 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 244.

78 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 37.

79 These three directions were: "Nam Tak, dependent on Vientiane;' 'Phuoc Bang at Khuc Lung, which is a territory of Luang Prabang;' and "Muang Ca Tran which is in the territory of Vientiane." Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 13; Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 35.

80 Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), p. 45; Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 57.

81 Khamman (1973) (L), p. 66; Sila (1969) (L), p. 46.

82 Prachum chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1930) (T), p. 76.

83 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 272.

84 Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), p. 45.

 


 

40. THE DEATH OF A FLAMBOYANT CHIEF AND THE MARTYRDOM OF A HERO


On May 5, 1827, the Siamese commander sent several negotiators to Phagna Narin to parley for the surrender of encircled Nong Bua Lam Phu. One Thai negotiator came near the camp and asked, "will the Lao accept paying the traditional gold and silver flowers?" The chronicles report that an inhabitant who was in the camp heard others shout that "Chao Ratsavong is their chief and they [would] never capitulate."85 Negotiations were over and the Lao fired on the Thai to stop these efforts to soften Lao morale.86

Phagna Singhanat personally directed the firing on the staff of Thai military leader, Phraya Kiat, who stood foM meters away. The Lao fired in shifts through the gun slit. Because each gun had only nine to ten bullets, the soldiers soon had to resort to pebbles.87 Thai artillery did not take long to finish off this derisory Lao defense. AU afternoon and night the fortress was engulfed in a sea of fire, dust, and smoke, while the waves of fanatics successively broke on the parapet of the fort. 88 In the weak light of dawn on May 6, 1827, the final assault by the Thai army began. 89 The two sides fought all morning when a rumor that Phagna Narin had already fled ran through the confused melee, and threw the Lao rank and file into a panic.90 The Phun viang chronicle maintains that members of the Thai force, disguised as Lao who had been rescued from the Mun Kheng battle and assigned to defend the fort, opened the gate to the assailants.91 Regardless of the truth of this particular detail, the Thai succeeded in entering the camp. Phagna Narin defended himself with a sword against the pack assaulting him. Thai officers Phraya Kalahomsena, Phraya Phichairasa, Phraya Sitthi-awut, and three other soldiers finally overcame and captured him.92 Phagna Singhanat escaped. The battle for Nong Bua Lam Phu was over.

According to a Saraburi man who was in the Lao camp, thirty Lao were killed, all of them by bullets.93 However, according to Thai records, seventy Lao were killed during the battle, twenty-six were taken prisoner and fifteen flintlocks were seized. On the Siamese side, two commanders, including Phraya Kiat, were killed, seven soldiers died, and four officers and seventeen soldiers were wounded.94 A half- hearted pursuit, undertaken by the Siamese troops after the fall of the fortress, captured 'Thai Lao inhabitants of Muang Khorat." Among them, thirty able-bodied


85 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 35.

86 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 2, 31-32.

87 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 32; TNL Document Rama III (25) 1189/4 kai.

88 Thap (1930) (T), p. 78.

89 On the Siamese attack, see Chotmaihet raang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 25; TNL Document Rama HI (73) 1189/11 chan.

90 For this rumor, see Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 33-34. For the story from the perspective of the people of Khorat in the camp as new draftees, who opened the camp gates to the Thai army and provoked panic among its defenders, see the Phun viang chronicles in Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 46. This course of events explains why Bowon invited Phagna Narin to become a Thai officer: the fort fell into Thai hands independently of Phagna Narin's professional ability. See Kulap (1971) (T), p. 244.

91 Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 149-50; Dhawaj (1982) (T), pp. 39-40.

92 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 2-3.

93 Chotmaihet raang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 3.

94 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 57; TNL Document Rama IR (23) 1189/4 kai. For the ravages of Siamese firepower, see Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 32.

 


 

41. THE DEATH OF A FLAMBOYANT CHIEF AND THE MARTYRDOM OF A HERO


men were quickly placed in the Siamese armies.95 These actions trivialized the subtle distinction between the "Lao" and the "not Lao" maintained by the Lao forces occupying the Khorat Plateau. The Siamese were confident in the organizational strength of their highly integrative system, capable in this particular case of making anyone into a "good Siamese" soldier. It is more likely, however, that the captured Lao joined the Siamese army because they considered survival paramount.

After the Siamese intelligence service captured, whipped, and tortured Phagna Narin, they gave him the opportunity to join the Siamese army with all the status he enjoyed in the Lao army in exchange for his submission to the Siamese commander Bowon. "Phagna Narin," wrote a high-ranking officer in the Bowon army, "deserves to be one of the highest commanders of the Siamese army for his bravery and his military prowess."96 But Phagna Narin and his nephew, captured at the same time, refused to serve in Siamese uniform against their own country and stoically accepted the fate reserved for them. Phagna Narin replied "I am just a soldier who, if defeated, cannot be the subject of any master." Phagna Narin and his nephew were thus stabbed by the tusks of war elephants, according to Chaophraya Thiphakorawong.97 Siamese law reserved this punishment for officers of royal blood guilty of committing high treason. However, a report from the high general-staff, on June 16, 1827, recounted dispassionately that these two Lao heroes received an even harsher death sentence: 'Ai Phagna Narinthon [Phagna Narin] as well as his nephew still remain faithful to Ai Anou of Vientiane. Therefore, we have decided to slice them alive, to saw their heads into four parts, to saw off their ears, their hands, and their feet, to behead them and then expose their remains at Ban... chork in order that all the Hua muang lao will take them as an example."98 This was the penalty for those who remained loyal to Vientiane even after it had been conquered by the Siamese army and Anou had become a haggard knight-e"ant hunted by Bangkok troops.
 

42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN- THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR


Pressed by repeated appeals from Phagna Narin before the fall of Nong Bua Lam Phu, Anou asked for help from Siang Khuang and Luang Frabang as soon as he arrived in Vientiane on April 23, 1827. He also conscripted troops from among the population that had been evacuated from the Khorat Plateau. Five days after returning to the Lao capital, Anou entrusted to Phagna Suraratchawong, the

95 Kulap (1971), p. 244.

96 Sarnrit (1971) (L), p. 126; Thap (1930) (T), pp. 73-78.

97 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 57; Kulap (1971) (T), p. 245.

98 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangehan (1926) (T), p. 46. The village of Takutchork was a stopping-off point for the Siamese troops where they prepared for the attack on Nong Bua Lam Phu. Takutchork is five days' walk from the target of this planned attack. See Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 36. The name of the village where the remains of these two martyrs are exhibited, as reported in this report, seems to be Ban Takutchork. Phagna Narin's fate was not uncommon in this part of Southeast Asia, or in Asia as a whole. For instance, Phan Ba Vanh, a leader of one of Vietnam's largest rebellions in the nineteenth century, rose against Emperor Minh Mang from 1825-27. Though he died on the battlefield, his head was cut off and body butchered into three pieces that were exhibited in the three provinces that supported his rebellion. Shiraishi (1984), pp. 379, 384.

 


 

42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR


governor of Saraburi, some of the thirty thousand newly conscripted men so that he could deploy his own forces to Nong Bua Lam Phu to help Phagna Narin on May 2, 1827.99

Ordinarily, only one day was needed to reach Nong Bua Lam Phu from Vientiane, but because the route was crowded with evacuees from the Khorat Plateau, Anou had to slow his march. Whether from bravado or ignorance of military realities on the battlefield, he brought only five hundred men with him, and he followed a different path than that taken by his main army, which passed by Khao San. 100 The news of the fall of Nong Bua Lam Phu reached him as he arrived at Ban Kham Mek Pho.101 Chao Ratsavong and Phagna Supho met him there to report on the situation at Lomsak-Loei, and then finalized a plan for stopping the Thai army at Thong Sompoi-Khao San. On May 10, 1827, Anou returned to Vientiane. 102 Then he came back to direct one final battle, in this way accepting the entire responsibility for the final annihilation of the Lao armies among the mountains,103 the slope of which ends on the western shore of the Mekong River, opposite Vientiane.

Khao San was an eight-meter wide mountain pass that turned into a trail one day's walk from Vientiane. Sutthisan, assisted by the governor of Khon Kaen, was responsible for the two forts blocking the pass.104 Lao military leaders, Phagna Supho and Phagna Sanon, controlled access to this strategic pass by occupying the village of Ban Song Khao San on the western slope of the mountain, located twelve hundred meters (thirty sen) from the pass.

Phagna Siangsa's troops posted at Song Sanom took control of two other passes of lesser importance, while Phagna Kongkham's troops took up position at Song Goi Taek. There a small trail from Nong Bua Lam Phu winding along the eastern slope of the mountainous range linked to another trail from Nong Bua Lam Phu that passed across the plain of Sompoi. These passes dominated the plain, which covered an area of approximately eight kilometers by ten kilometers, an area of great historical significance according to an analyst of the campaign of 1827.105 The plain's location


99 A Chinese merchant from Saraburi testified that all of the thirty thousand new conscripts were sent to help Nong Bua Lam Phu. See Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 38. But according to intelligence gathered by the Siamese army, twenty-five thousand new soldiers were recruited, three thousand of whom were allocated for the defense of Vientiane. According to an official of Khorat in Vientiane at the time, however, the new levy brought in only ten thousand men. This last figure is indirectly confirmed by Chao Sutthisan's letter to Phagna Narin, stating that he had with him at Khao San nine thousand men, supplemented by twenty-five hundred supporters of the governor of Khon Kaen. See Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 55-57 for the Siamese intelligence, p. 15 for the Khorat official's figures, and p. 57 for Chao Sutthisan's letter.

100 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 38.

101 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 55.

102 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 38; TNL Document Rama III (84) 1189/11 ching. Lao sources date the return on May 9,1827, only a slight difference. See Phongsawadan muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 16; Khamman (1973) (L), p. 66.

103 Testimony of a leader of the town of Saniaburi (near Nakhon Thanom), collected in Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 79. During the battles of Sompoi-Khao San, the Lao struggled against the Siamese force, particularly those led by Khun Nen, in an effort to keep the communications channel between Vientiane and the battlefield open. Kulap (1971) (T), p. 265.

104 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 17; Thap confirms that Chao Surya, a nephew of Anou, personally commanded at this pass. Momchao Thap (1930) (T), p. 79.

105 Kennedy (1970), P. 331.

 


 

42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR


was a half-day away from Sutthisan's camp at Khao San, from Chao Ratsavong's post, and from the Thai-held fortress of Nong Bua Lam Phu.

Together Phagna Sanon, Phagna Suraratchawong, governor of Saraburi, and Chao Ngonkham (or Nokham), nephew of Anou, directed the Thong Sompoi battle.106 The defense perimeter of the battlefield was secured by Chao Ratsavong in the west and Chao Tissa in the east.107 Tissa stood at Nong Han with four thousand men, mostly from Kalasin and Sakon Nakhon; he was ordered to "protect the roads of the numerous towns"108 and to counter any movement by the second Siamese army, led by Bodin. With this strategy, the Lao expected to isolate the first Siamese army, which arrived on the plain of Sompoi on May 11, 1827. Operational troops loyal to Siamese commander Bowon were headed there, including those commanded by Krommamun Seniborirak, Phraya Kalahomsena, Phraya Chasaenyakon, Krommamun Naretyothi, Phraya Thainam, and Chaophraya Mahayotha. With Chao Ratsavong and Sutthisan by his side, Anou gave the signal for the Lao troops to launch their attack against the Thai soldiers.109

The Siamese forces emerged on the plain of Sompoi, but in a manner unanticipated by the Lao tacticians. According to Momchao Thap's account, the Thai commanders recognized that it would be costly to take on directly the impregnable Lao defense entrenched in the Khao San pass, so they divided three thousand hardened soldiers into six groups and had them stand abreast at the village of Sompoi, about sixteen hundred meters from the first Lao outposts. This bait lured the Lao down from their stronghold and caught them off guard. Aching to revenge humiliations endured on the Phimai plain, the Lao soldiers could not resist the urge to throw their entire army into the contest. The attackers soon realized, however, that the Thai position was unbreakable and formidable, for they faced a wall of cannon fire shot at them from very close range. The Lao retreated, regrouped at a safe distance, and surrounded the Thai soldiers with three successive rings of troops. When the Thai commander estimated that he had an equal number of troops on the field, he motioned for the main Thai forces, hidden in the dense forest nearby, to enter the fray.110 A principle in Southeast Asian warfare held that to retrieve an entrapped army like the Thai on the Sompoi plain, one needs to rally more than three times the number of enemy troops. It seemed that the Thai had learned this principle well.

When Krommamun Naretyothi, a Thai field commander, approached Thong Sornpoi from a distance of about twelve hundred meters (thirty sen), he witnessed the Lao war elephants' astonishing strength in the face of rolling fire directed against them. Archbishop Brugui@re, certainly inspired by this battle, wrote in 1829 that


106 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 55.

107 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangehan (1926) (T), p. 15. See Momchao Thap's confirmation (T), p. 80, which claims Chao Ratsavong had sixteen thousand men. The figure is questionable, but perhaps Chao Ratsavong deliberately spread rumors exaggerating his strength.

108 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 16, 47.

109 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 55. See also the testimony of Phagna Phan Na, a Lao officer present at Khao San, who reported that Anou personally directed the troops' movements on the battlefield. Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101. Lao oral tradition maintains that "Anou returned to Vientiane and let Chao Ratsavong direct the resistance." Aymonier (1885), p. 8.

ll0 A Buddhist, Chaophraya Thiphakorawong claimed that monks attached to the Thai used magic to save the army by transforming leaves into soldiers.

 


 

42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR


"when the elephants are well trained, they inflict more carnage than many soldiers together. They fight with their tusks, their ftunk, their feet, and the enormous mass of their body. It is quite difficult to wound them with a firearm."1ll Protected by warriors equipped with shields and swords, these war elephants relentlessly charged against the Siamese troops who had preceded those of Krommamun Naretyothi. In the furious hand-to-hand combat that ensued, men, horses, and elephants were tangled up. The Thai kept silent about their own losses, but counted fifty Lao among the casualties of the first day's battle.112

That night, the two sides camped on the battlefield. At the beginning, the Lao controlled all but one of the exits, making movement difficult for the Thai. Phagna Saenhan and Phagna Nammillek cut off the retreat of Thai forces and prevented others seeking a way on to the battlefield. Phagna Siiahan, Thao Mahawong, and Thao Phomthak prevented Thai forces from gaining access to water sources.113 Phagna Kongkeo and Phagna Kongkham, two chiefs from Saraburi, led eight thousand soldiers from their town to join the other Lao contingents. Traditional Lao historiography, following a narrative elucidated by Prince Darnrong Rajanubhab, asserts that the Thai forces had been encircled for seven days and were entrapped by the unusual geography. Chaophraya Thiphakorawong, however, argues that their entrapment lasted for only three days, and Momchao Thap maintains that it lasted just two days. For the Lao to succeed at this strategy of encirclement, they needed time to exhaust, starve, demoralize, and militarily defeat the Thai troops. But the Lao ultimately lacked the power necessary to impose a decisive victory on the battlefield despite their control over it.

The next day, May 12, 1827, events took a negative turn for the Lao when all available Siamese troops were added to the battlefield in order to tip the balance of power. Despite the disproportion in numbers, however, Phagna Supho and Phagna Sanon joined with the forces of Phagna Siangsa, Phagna Surinthon, and Phagna Kongkham, to deliver a smashing stroke against the Thai army surrounded on the plain of Thong Sompoi. At that point, all of the Lao operational forces were engaged in battle.

During the battle, the Thai army moved to the rear of the Lao forces to break up communication channels between Khao San and Vientiane. Three thousand men belonging to "Chieu Tham Cam and Tieu Khun Nen" carried out this move against which Anou had to dispatch thirty-five hundred soldiers.114 Another Siamese body of troops succeeded in seizing the Lao armaments depot guarded by Phagna Saisongkham, Phya Suvan, and Thao Mi. In this manner, the Siamese secured five shrapnel guns and thirteen flintlocks and ammunition.115


1ll Bruguiere (1831), p. 202.

112 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 5. The Lao were famous for training and using war elephants. See Wales (1952), p. 133; Cadi6re and Pelliot, Bulletin de I'Ecole Fran@aise d'Extrbne Orient (1909), pp. 52ff.

113 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 247. Momchao Thap reports that the Lao measures were highly efficient and threw the Siamese troops into disarray. Thap (1930) (T), p. 94. Similar tactics were already in use by the fifteenth century. See Marini (1663), p. 159.

114 Figures and names provided by Phagna Phan Na, a Lao field commander. See Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101; confirmed by Bodin, in Kulap (1971) (T), p. 265.

115 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 43; Kulap (1971) (T), p. 147.

 


42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR

 
As in other confrontations between the Lao and Siamese armies, the number
of casualties and length of the battle are in dispute. Siamese general Bodin
recalled that this battle lasted for seven days,116 while Lao military leader,
Phagna Phan Na, asserted that only after fifteen days did the Thai finally
give ground and flee to Nong Bua Lam Phu.117 The Thai side did not release
figures estimating their casualties. It is clear, in any case, that the engagement
on May 12, 1827 was extremely violent. On that day, Phraya Chasoenyakon,
the Thai commander of the first corps of the advance forces, was wounded by
four lances thrown from the Lao mounted on war elephants.118 Three of the
seventy Lao way elephants died and several others were injured, 134 Lao
soldiers were killed, and three were taken prisoner by the Thai. Nokham, a
Lao field commander, was gravely wounded when leading an attack. 119

The next day's battle on May 13, 1827, began very early but terminated with
a Thai defeat.120 Thai soldiers broke rank and fled, stopping only at the gate
of the Nong Bua Lam Phu camp. There, however, Thai firepower broke the
spirit of the assailing Lao forces whose chief, Phagna Kongkeo of Saraburi,
was killed in action. In this skirmish, the Lao left three wounded and a shrapnel
gun on the battlefield. 121 Again, the Thai did not report their losses.

In the darkness of a moonless night, the Lao camped on the heights of Song
Sanom, about sixteen hundred meters -from Nong Bua Lam Phu. By the fire
the Lao had set up, the Thai identified four camps. That evening, Krommamun
Naretyothi sent two thousand men to try to dislodge the Lao camps, but their
efforts were in vain.

Siamese commander-in-chief Bowon, aware that his operational forces had
been fully utilized but to no avail, decided to depart Khorat on May 13, 1827.
He did this in order to reconnoiter the combat zone. Far from the battlefield,
he set up his camp at Lam Pa Chi, which became known as the strategic
headquarters for the war.122 There he received another urgent demand for
help from Krornmamun Naretyothi, who was the chief of the tactical field
army headquarters. To prepare the counter- offensive, Krommamun Naretyothi
asked for the two cannons which remained at the Lam Pa Chi camp. He
requested and obtained all the available reserve forces. These included the
troops of Phraya Kraikosa of the third Siamese army who had measured swords
with Chao Ratsavong during the Lomsak-Loei campaign; the troops of Phraya
Katsak Haksa; the forces belonging to Phraya Ratsa-Yotha; and the soldiers
loyal to Luang Plat of Phimai who had fought the Lao once at Mun Kheng.123
Kromrnamun Naretyothi also asked his superior Bowon to send approximately
four tons (fifty hap) of powder and the 140,000 cartridges and cannon balls
stocked at Ban

116 Kulap (1971) (T), pp. 247-248.

117 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101.

118 Chotmaihet rilang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 44.

119 Chotmaihet raang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 43.

120 On this Thai defeat at the first battle of Thong Sompoi, see Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 44. Phagna Phan Na's testimony to the officials of the court of Hue provides confirmation. Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 110.

121 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 44.

122 TNL Document Rama IH (5) 1188/4.

123 Chotmaihet rfiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 6, 44.

 


42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR

 
Song Khon near Saraburi to Thong Sompoi immediately.124 The reinforcement
effort was expedited by forced march on May 18,1827.

Krommamiln Naretyothi then attempted to force his way onto the Thong
Sompoi plain. On May 14,1827, he sacrificed the troops of Phraya
Phichaiburinthara, Phraya Nakhon Khiian Khan, Phraya Nakhon In, Phra
Seniborirak, Luang Milang, Luang Khlang, and Khun Narong Phinat, to the
battle-worthy Lao.125 The Thai generals preferred to maintain silence on
this second battle of Thong Sompoi, and only a sketchy archival description
has survived: "Krommamiin Naretyothi and his officers had to open a
passage by force as far as Khao San. There they confronted the fleeing Lao."126
Against the Lao, this Thai army lined up all its infantry, their artillery, two
hundred way elephants, and five hundred horses.127 The Lao resistance must
have been particularly stiff, however, for not until May 25, 1827 could Krommamiin
Naretyothi announce the capture of the camp of Khao San pass to Bowon. 128
Only on May 27,1827 did Krommamiin Seniborirak, who was holed up in Nong
Bua Lam Phu after the carnage of the Thong Sompoi battles, dare to leave his
refuge and take the road to Vientiane.

The commander Bowon's shrewd decision to set up camp at Nong Bua Lam Phu
on May 21, 1827 is indicative of the challenge that the recapture of the Thong
Sompoi battlefield presented to the Siamese. His royal presence obliged his field
commanders to conclude the battle decisively.129 Bowon uttered the drastic
order, "Anyone who retreats will be instantly beheaded.,,130 This order served
its purpose; it stiffened the Siamese army's resolve.

When Tissa, fighting from his outlying post in Nong Han, was outflanked on
May 23, 1827, the fate of the battle at Thong Sompoi-Khao San drastically
changed. 131 Prior to Tissa's fall, the Lao had successfully held their own
against the Siamese forces. However, after May 23, the Siamese first army
crushed the Lao forces at Thong Sompoi-Khao San. Thai n-dlitary leader Khun
Nen and his peers then blocked the retreat of these Lao forces. Bodin gave up
his troops, which he sorely needed in the theatre of operations where he had
been assigned, so that they could join the first and the third Siamese armies to
gain control over Thong Sompoi-Khao San. This explains Bodin's poor
performance on the ground. Meanwhile, the third Siamese army trampled Chao
Ratsavong's army. These events marked the end of the battle. Although the Lao
had designed to trap the first Siamese army in the basin of Thong Sompoi, they
were in the end victimized by their own scheme and by the organizational
synchronization of the three Siamese armies. The three Siamese armies rejoined
at a strategic time, pushed the Lao back into the dead end at Thong Sompoi-
Khao San, and pulverized them. Simultaneously, the Thai autonomous corps

124 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 9. It is unclear, however, whether this request was conveyed before or after the first battle of Thong Sompoi.

125 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 5-6.

126 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 46.

127 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 45; Kulap (1971) (T), p. 273; Thap (1930) (T), p. 83. For comparison, Vietnam had about four hundred war elephants. Woodside (1971), p. 252.

128 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 46.

129 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 43, 48.

130 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 274.

131 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 47.

 


42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR

 
completely obstructed the eight-meter passage across the Khao San pass.
The result was carnage. Two days later, on May 25,1827, the Thai
pronounced their victory.
It required only two interminable days for the Thai commanders to
take control of the battlefield. The victory was bittersweet, however,
for the Lao armies had bled the Thai forces white and shattered its morale.
For the Lao army, it seemed they had been swallowed up by an earthquake.
The Lao rank and file suffered traumatic losses, but their will to take
revenge lived on.
According to Bodin's Memoirs, the Lao lost two-thirds of their strength
in this engagement. Their bodies piled up on the battlefields as high as
embankments.132 Once again, the number of Thai dead is not mentioned
in the Thai sources. Phagna Supho, Chief of the Lao general-staff, was
among those killed in action.133 The remaining soldiers, including Phagna
Sanon and Phagna Siangsa, slipped through the Siamese troops' net and
scattered in many directions. 134 As part of the war booty, the Siamese
armies acquired a gold Buddha image weighing 450 grams (seven tamliing
and one baht), which had been the personal palladium of Chao AnOU.135
In his report to Rama III about the battle, Siamese generalissimo Bowon
assessed Lao strengths and weaknesses:
... the entrenchment and fortifications that the Lao built along our way
manifest proof of the firm and solid determination of the Lao; towns they
fortified with defenses expressed an unshakable resolution for their side
and we ran the risk of being defeated by them. Moreover, the Lao, soldiers
and civilians alike, fought with determination because they cherished their
family and their country. They possess an enormous quantity of elephants,
horses, cows, and buffaloes, as well as stocked food. For transportation over
long distances, they do not, like us, use cows, but have more rapid means
such as elephants and horses. These number among the many Lao assets.
Our advantages over the Lao were of two orders. First, the Lao fell back
before the [Thai] forces had combined. Second, after the Lao withdrew or
fled, they did not bum their supplies that lay along our path. 136

The Siamese "advantages" that Bowon lists here were really just secondary,
for ultimately the Lao were incapable of shattering the core of Siam's military
strength, the political decision-making body that remained in Bangkok. James
Low, who watched the conflict attentively and wrote many times on the
general issue of Siamese supremacy over neighboring countries, wrote:
The Thai race lays claim to a higher degree of political address,
and to superior sagacity in the conduct of warlike operations, than
they are willing to allow to their neighbors. Perhaps these points
may be conceded in their favor.... On the other hand it may be
instanced, in proof of the Siamese not

132 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 275; Thap (1930) (T), p. 84.

133 Phagna Supho's name appears neither on the list of Lao captured by the Thai who agreed to serve Bangkok, nor the list of Lao dignitaries who escaped to Sieng Khuang or with Anou to Vietnarn. For these lists, see Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 97-98,108, 150.

134 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 275.

135 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 274.

136 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 282.

 


42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR

 
being much inferior to the Burmans, and not at all to the Laos and
Cambodians, in the quantity of the materiel used in their common
modes of warfare, or in the tact and resolution requisite to employ it
with effect, that they have always extricated themselves from difficulties,
and have often been the attacking party on these several nations....
However politically weak, their personal courage is probably still
superior to that of the Burmans. The Laos races have occasionally
resisted both Burmans and Siamese, and owe their present state of
vassalage to both of these powers, but particularly to the Siamese,
to their disunion and paucity of numbers only.137

James Low also theorized on the political philosophy of Siamese
conduct in state affairs, which applies to the 1827 conflict:

The Siamese are too politic a nation   ....   They are still a cautious
and deliberative people, and in the main, and within their own circle
of ideas, keen and penetrating politicians, rarely permitting the most
deeply rooted hatred, or an intemperate thirst of dominion, to betray
them into precipitate measures. They may act on false principles, but
they prepare well for what these may impel them to. 138

John Crawfurd offered a very different reflection on the Siamese than
James Low. Comments he made on April 3, 1823 sfiu applied after the
war of 1827:

Considering the timid and even cowardly character which the enervating
nature of their political institutions has produced, it may seem at first sight
unaccountable to have conquered and long maintained their superiority
over the small but braver tribes by whom they are surrounded. This
circumstance however seems to me to resolve itself into the simple fact
of superiority of civilization, which implies in a word superiority of resources
in wealth and population, with possession of subordination to authority,
and thence the capacity to a certain extent at least of acting in concord
upon concerted and systematic views.139

As a matter of fact, the mode of warfare adopted by the Lao enhanced
Siam's sense of superiority. The Lao accepted the framework imposed by
Bangkok's court and played by Bangkok's rules. The Lao attempted to
establish their own rules by securing the Khorat Plateau before the battle
of Thong Sompoi-Khao San, but they failed to carry their actions to their
logical conclusion. By fixating on maintaining control over Vientiane, the
Lao insured that their struggle would end in defeat, as it had in 1779, when
Taksin's generals conquered Vientiane and ordered the population to move
to Siam. After their withdrawal from Khorat, the Lao could have imitated
Setthathirat by retiring into the depths of the Lao country in the southern
hinterland and thereby saving the core of Lao power: its army renascent.
Such a decision would have required a totally different mentality, however.
Although the

137 Low (1839), pp. 305-306.

138 Low (1839) pp. 89, 324.

139 Crawfurd Papers, pp. 43-45, 143, 144.

 


42. THE STRUGGLE FOR THONG SOMPOI AND KHAO SAN: THE TURNING POINT OF THE 1827 WAR

 
Lao defeat in 1827 sprang primarily from the fact that its armies were over-extended, the question of posture, of position, was also quintessentially significant to the outcome. The Lao indulged themselves by confining their troops in a number of impressive fortresses they had skillfully erected, but when they emerged from those fortresses and
engaged in ground fighting, they were out-classed, out-gunned, and
out-maneuvered by their foes.

43. THE STRUGGLE TO THE FINISH AFTER VIENTIANE'S FALL AND THE TERREUR BLANCHE


After the Siamese captured Thong Sompoi-Khao San, Anou returned to his capital for two days to enact various measures for its evacuation. The population in Vientiane had begun to panic as soon as the people heard news of the fall of Nong Bua Lam Phu.140 Anou ordered the governor of Saraburi to use his kinsmen to stern the advance of the Siamese troops at Muang Khuk and Pak Khai, two vantage points which controlled access to the route linking Khao San to Vientiane.141 With admirable bravery and self-sacrifice,.these Saraburi men led a desperate rear-guard battles against the Thai, who again had recourse to their overwhehning firepower. 142 Anou also dispatched Phagna Kongkham, another able commander from Saraburi, to take position at Huai Luang where he provided a thin screen of troops to protect Phagna Nam Hung and Phagna Siangsa assigned to reconstitute an army from the remnants of defeated arn-des.

Anou also reorganized forces to continue battles elsewhere. From the Lao troops that survived the Thong Sompoi-Khao San battles, Anou gathered nine thousand soldiers.143 He sent them to southern Laos, where the order was given to Suy Mien and Phagna Viang Kae to set up camps at Tha Sida and Nakhon Phanom, two Mekong River towns in direct communication with Vietnam. The Lao vice king, Tissa, also was enjoined to rally the Nakhon Phanom camp.144 Anou hid the Phra Bang (the golden Buddha image and palladium of Luang Prabang) and other precious objects in the Phu Khao Khwai cave, sixty kilometers from Vientiane.145 He also emptied Vientiane of elephants and horses so that the Thai forces could not round them up and offer them to Rama 111.146

Anou then entrusted his relatives, over five hundred Vientiane citizens, and his treasure to Chao Noi, who was commanded to bring them them to Siang Khuang.147 Chao N6f left Vientiane early in the morning on May 22,1827, whereas Chao Anou was generally reported to have departed at sunset the same day.148 A party


140 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 2, 101.

141 TNL Document Rama III (78) 1189/ 11 ngu.

142 Thap (1930) (T), p. 83.

143 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101.

144 The names are transcribed poorly. Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 1, 12-13, 22.

145 Thongwitthaya (1983) (T), p. 33.

146 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 297.

147 Phongsawadan Muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 16; Khamman (1973) (L), p. 66; 1 (1977) (V), p. 150.

148 For the date, see TNL Document Rama III (36) 1189/10 kai; Document Rama III (84) 1189/11 ching;

Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 79. Some Thai sources confirm that Anou left Vientiane after the fall of

Thong Sompoi-Khao San. See Chotmaihet riiang prap  khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 46, 49, 51.

Other Thai and Lao sources maintain the opposite. See Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 58, who claimed

Anou left Vientiane May 16,1827, or perhaps as early as May 12. See also Chotmaihet riiang prap

khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 47, 49, 55, 57; Chotmaihet yo ?naang wiangchan (1969)  (T), p. 137.



Oral tradition on the Khorat Plateau provides a different version. The struggle

between the Siamese and Lao armies was so confused that the front-line had

disappeared and soldiers from each side had got behind each other's lines. Chao

Anou threaded his way through this confused fighting on his land journey from

Vientiane to Nakhon Phanorn. The path used for this escape has since then been

called the Sai thang chao anou, or Chao Anou's way, by the northeast. It follows

the crest of the Sai Dong Bang Ee mountain range. On the right side of the Mekong

River, the Sai thang chao anou passes through Ban Phutha, Ban Yao, Nong Phai

Nun, and Ban Va Nomnivat (at Sakon Nakhon). Interview with Maha Vankham

Suryadet, Vientiane, June 24, 1987. This oral tradition is sustained by the narrative

written on a palm-leaf manuscript titled Chao anou taek tap (The Rout of Chao

Anou) (L). It is also maintained by the fact that Chao Anou was probably on the

Thong Sompoi-Khao San battlefield until the end because the Siamese succeeded

in capturing his personal palladium, which always was with its owner.
 

 


43. THE STRUGGLE TO THE FINISH AFTER VIENTIANE'S FALL AND THE TERREUR BLANCHE

 
people, including forty-four high-ranking officials of the kingdom
of Vientiane, thirty-six of Anou's relatives, fifty-eight maids, and
148 commoners, accompanied Anou. All were evacuated by boat
from Vientiane to Nakhon Phanom.149

Anou's hasty departure from Vientiane caught some of his retinue
by surprise. After the governor of Saraburi fought a battle at Muang
Khuk to stem the tide of advancing Thai troops as Anou ordered,
he escaped to Vientiane only to find it empty. This infuriated him
and provoked his rampage against the Chinese living at Ban Suan
Luang, near the royal palace of Anou.150 Chao Ratsavong also made
his way to Vientiane after it had been deserted by Anou. Unlike the
governor of Saraburi, Chao Ratsavong reacted calmly, gathering
some of the palace treasury that his father had abandoned in his haste.151
And then the city was surrendered to the enemy. On approximately May
26,1827, the Siamese forward forces found Vientiane intact.1,52 They
immediately occupied the Lao capital and by June 8, commander
Bowon had set up camp there, on the shore opposite Vientiane.153

For two months, Anou remained in Nakhon Phanom, on the eastern
bank of the Mekong River. In August 1827, he went to Muang Kungkeo,
where he erected a fortress at Tha Sida. Tha Sida is mid-way between
Vientiane and Nakhon Phanorn, and two days' walk from Mahachai
(now Nhommarat). There, officer "Phagna Akkharat" was nominated
to train soldiers for the reconquest of Vientiane.154 The immediate
function of this camp was to rally all the remaining Lao troops from
the Khorat Plateau. The Lao sent intelligence gathering parties from
Tha Sida to Vientiane while Anou waited for the governor of Nakhon
Phanom to gather enough men to join others at Tha Sida and to march
on Vientiane. Upon lean-dng about its significance, the Thai army
would attempt to capture this outpost at the first
 

149 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 108-09. 150 TNL Document Rama III (84) 1189/ 11 ching. 151 TNL Document Rama III (103) 1189/11 ching. 152 Thap (1930) (T), p. 92. 153 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 49; TNL Document Rama III (5) 1188/4. 154 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 60, 67.
 


43. THE STRUGGLE TO THE FINISH AFTER VIENTIANE'S FALL AND THE TERREUR BLANCHE

 
opportunity.155 According to Lao oral tradition, Chao Ratsavong engaged in
a battle with the Thai at this place, referred to as the Pak Kading battle.
Meanwhile, in Vientiane the Thai army carried out the order given by
Rama III to reduce the city to rubble.156 A Lao officer gave an account
of this event to officials of the court of Hue:

Vang Na [the Siamese vice king, Bowon] ordered all the inhabitants to evacuate
the capital [Vientiane] and had all the houses set afire, as well as the palaces
of the king and everything else within Vientiane. Everything belonging to Phi
Tao [the elite] and to the population has been burnt. Places other than Vientiane
that were densely inhabited were also ignited, such as Muang Tha Bo [about ten
kilometers south of Vientiane], Nong Bo, Nong Khai [twenty km downstream o
f Vientiane], Pha Cat, Thiap Ma Ni, Ba Xuy, Hoi Lung [Huai Luang near the town
of Phonphisai where the summer palace of the king of Vientiane was located,
sixty kilometers downstream from Vientiane].157

Some months later, the envoys of the court of Hue who came to Vientiane
to negotiate with Bowon and Bodin recounted that:


... the earth, the bricks and the ramparts of the capital have been totally ravaged.
Within the walls, all the houses have been destroyed, with the exception of pagodas
and the house of Ap-Ma-Hat [Upparat Tissal and that of Hat-Xavong [Chao Ratsavong].
At the outskirts of the precinct, there remain only five hundred to six hundred houses
still inhabited    ....  Where the Siamese soldiers billet, they use teak leaves and grass
for roofs of their shelter. None of their shelters are covered with tiles or made of stone.158

It was no accident that the houses of Tissa and Chao Ratsavong were not burned,
while Anou's palace adjoining them was incinerated. Bowon and Bodin did this in an
effort to sow discord in the royal family. Later Bodin even dared to write a letter to Chao
Ratsavong,159 one piece of sophisticated Siamese psychological operations.

The terreur blanche was carried out without delay. A letter from the upparatl60 of
the Lao town of Tam Dong addressed to a Vietnamese official at Quy Hop noted that:

All those who agree to follow Tissa in his collaboration with Siam and who agree to surrender
to Bangkok are authorized to follow him to settle in Siam. But those who still express their faith
in the king of the Ten Thousand

155 TNL Document Rama III (87) 1189/11 ching. 1

56 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 50.

157 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101. Confirmation in a Thai source in TNL Document Rama HI (49) 1189/4 kai.

158 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 156.

159 See Bodin's letter to Chao Ratsavong and Chao Sutthisan, recorded in Ngo Cao 1 (1977) (V), p. 97.

160 See note 39, this chapter, for definitions of upparat and other official titles.

 


43. THE STRUGGLE TO THE FINISH AFTER VIENTIANE'S FALL AND THE TERREUR BLANCHE

 
Elephants country [the kingdom of Vientiane] are to be held in a place and turned over to the Siamese army. 161
Many refused this deal, even though they knew they would probably become
martyrs to their decision. History remembers their choice.

In front of the Song Bong pass there exists a sacred sanctuary before which all
passersby are obliged to pay their respects. Elders pass on the story to future
generations about Chaophraya Bodindecha (Sing Singhaseni), the [Siamese]
cornmander-in-chief, who was sent to repress the revolt of Vientiane. After his
achievements, all officers, governors of provinces, and officials of various levels
who had taken the side of those who revolted, suffered atrocious tortures in
accord with the military penal code and were executed at Pak Song Bong. From
then it has been considered a sacred place.162

Bodin displayed to the Vietnamese envoys a list of names of the twelve
high- ranking Lao officials captured and taken to Siam. The dozen officials
comprised one quarter of the kingdom of Vientiane's officialdom. Twenty-three
of Anou's children and nineteen other people, thirteen of whom were infants,
would be put in the same cage as Anou in 1829.163 Entering Vientiane, Bowon
carried with him a blacklist that included the names of Phagna Supakphiao, the
governor of Saraburi, and the governor of Pak Thong Chai. They were taken
prisoner along with the ratsavong and the ratsabUtl64 of Lornsak, Phagna
Ratsavong, Phra Visetyotha, Luang Mahaphon, Thao Ping, Nang Phian
(Anou's wife), and Chao Menh (Inthavong's son). Another member of the
Lao establishment, Khieokhom, was recaptured at Pak Ngum with forty-eight
others. 165

The pursuit of the inhabitants was systematic. Thirty-seven hundred Siamese
soldiers chased them by land, one thousand hunted them down the Mekong
River, and one thousand were directed to search them out in Nam Ngum and
Phu Khao Khwai.166 According to contemporaries, the entire population of
the kingdom of Vientiane, which consisted of one hundred thousand to 150,000
before the war, was forced to march to Siam. A great number perished from famine,
illness, and exhaustion.167 All transportable items were brought to Bangkok,
including eight precious Buddha images.

Bodin undertook the pacification and reorganization of the Lao country. He was
named the general overseer of Vientiane, Champassak, and the whole Khorat

161 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 145.

162 To--m (1970) (T), pp. 326-327.

163 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 97-98. About Anou's children, see Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), pp. 77-78; Khamman (1973) (L), P. 64; Sila (1969) (L), P. 73. For the organizational chart of the kingdom of Vientiane's administration, see Charubut (1981) (T), pp. 1-5.

164 See note 39, this chapter, for definitions of officials' titles.

165 Nan Chronicle (1966), p. 70; Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), P. 57; TNL Document Rama El[ (87) 1189/11 ching.

166 TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama III (87) 1189/11 Thing.

167 Gutzlaff (1834) P. 78; Brugui@--re (1831), p. 200; Pallegoix (1836), p. 41; TNL Document RamIII (49) 1189/4 khoi.

 


43. THE STRUGGLE TO THE FINISH AFTER VIENTIANE'S FALL AND THE TERREUR BLANCHE

 
Plateau, while Phraya Phetphichai and Phraya Sombattiban were placed
in charge of Lan Na, Lomsak, Loei and Luang Prabang.168 Bowon reported to
Rama III on the behavior of the population. According to him, they resisted
when the troops were in small number or fled when the troops came in strength.169
More importantly, organized resistance continued under Phagna Siangsa and
the governor of Sakon Nakhon.170

After Phraya Kraikosa had been defeated by Phagna Siangsa at Ban Phon
Siang Vang, Bowon had to personally take drastic action for the first time
in the war of 1827 against his own officers.171 Bowon ordered Phraya
Phetphichai, Phraya Kaset, and Phraya Rathuangdet to engage Phagna
Siangsa. In the second battle, which occurred at Ban Phon Siang Vang,
Phagna Kongkham came from Muang Phen to cut off Phraya Phetphichai's
troops in the Year, but was killed by a bullet.172 The Lao then retreated
toward the mouth of the Huai Luang River, where Phagna Siangsa fought
a third battle-173 During the Huai Luang battle, both sides suffered losses
among their commanders. On the Thai side, Phraya Phetphichai's brother,
Phra Intharadet, was killed by a bullet and two others, Phraya Kamphaengphet
and Phra Hariithai, were gravely wounded.174 The Lao also suffered casualties.
Phagna Siangsa, Phagna Nam Hung, and other Lao military commanders were
captured during the battle.17,5 Although Phagna Vongsa Akkharat, the
governor of Pak Thong Chai, succeeded in escaping capture during the battle
of Huai Luang, he was apprehended soon thereafter in a skirmish with the troops
belonging to the governor of Khorat.176 He and his lieutenants, including Luang
Plat, Luang Yokkrabat of Muang Pak Thong Chai, and Luang Phetsongkhram,
were sent to Khorat where they suffered the same torture and execution as those
confined at Pak Song Bong. The Siamese also crushed resistance efforts mounted
by the governor of Sakon Nakhon, Phra Thani.177 He was captured, tortured like
those at Pak Song Bong, and executed at Nong Sai Khao.178 His assistants, the
Upparat Mapong and the ratsavong of Sakon Nakhon, who refused to submit to
Bangkok, met the same fate. The population of Sakon Nakhon, already located on
the western shore of the Mekong, was deported to Prachinburi.179

Despite these defeats, Anou continued to support the resistance made by the
towns of "Cam Cat [Khamkeut], Muang Xi, Muang Ky Xi, Muang Kham 0, Muang
Yam, and Muang Thuoc."180 The oral tradition of the Khorat Plateau maintains that

168 TNL Document Rama III (49) 1189/4 khai; Document Rama III (86) 1189/11.

169 Sila (1969) (L), p. 53; Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 64.

170 Sila (1969) (L), p. 56. 171 Sila (1969) (L), p. 61; Khamman (1973) (L), p. 67.

172 Sila (1969) (L), pp. 61-62; Khamman (1973) (L), p. 67.

173 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 127.

174 Sila (1969) (L), p.62; Khamman (1973) (L), p.67, confirms that the three died in the battle of Ban Phon Siang Vang.

175 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 101.

176 Ruam riiang Muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 60.

177 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 67.

178 Toem (1970) (T), p. 300.

179 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 72, 74.

180 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 61. The Phun viang chronicles report the defense line was organized along the left shore of the Mekong River by Anou and the Vietnamese. See Dhawaj (1982) (T), p. 43. Confirmation is found in the testimony of a Lao from Mahachai regarding the events of October 1827 to October 1828. See TNL Document Rama III (1190) 3. According to this man, the defense line was enhanced by the fortification of towns like Pa Man, where Anou was located, while Dan Nong Luang and Thakhek were under the command of the governor of Lakhon. The governor of Mahachai took up positions at Pha Om and Pak Ban Thap Na So. The Pa Man village is mentioned too in the Philn viang chronicles. According to Maha Vankham Suryadet (Interview, Vientiane, June 24, 19M, the village of Pa Man is no longer populated, but is still recognizable by its stupa and pagoda. Ban Pa Man is near the Tham Pha Sun cave (south of Nhommarat), where one of Chao Anou's officers, Nakhon Khong, has been honored as the guardian spirit of the cave. According to a popular belief, anyone who speaks Thai in this cave will vomit blood and die afterward.

 


43. THE STRUGGLE TO THE FINISH AFTER VIENTIANE'S FALL AND THE TERREUR BLANCHE

 
other towns also resisted, including Khammuan, Muang Mahachai, Muang Phin,
Muang Nong, Milang Tapon and Muang Vang.181 These towns continued their
resistance long after Anou's death in Bangkok. For instance, Muang Vang resisted
for fourteen years after the insurrection of 1827; Khamkeut, population 2,759,
resisted for twelve years, while Mahachai, although captured after the Siamese raid
of 1834, resisted for twenty-two years. The sixth son of Anou, Chao Theuan, married
a daughter of the governor of Muang Vang, and resisted for years before deciding
to settle at Nong Khai. Chao Menh came to settle in 1841 at Nakhon Phanom.182 In
Vang Viang, on the eastern shore of the Mekong River and north of Vientiane, the
Phu Thai and the Lao Theung successfully resisted three Siamese expeditionary
raids sent up from Nong Khai, the new stronghold. 183

44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY


The operational objective of the second Siamese army, under Bodin's command, was to conquer Tissa's and Chao Yo's Lao troops in the southeast corner of the Khorat Plateau. Phraya Ratchanikun led part of the second Siamese army south, while Bodin made a large bend to the north to destroy communication lines and cut off Tissa's retreat toward Vientiane. Bodin then pivoted sharply to the south to join Phraya Ratchanikun. Meanwhile, the governor of Khorat swept from west to east, pursuing Chao Yo's troops and thus completing this three-pronged attack. As commissioner for the Lao and Khmer eastern areas, Bodin was assigned

. . .to repress disturbances as he went toward Suwannaphum, while Chaophraya Khorat, Phraya Ramkhamhaeng and Phraya Mahasongkhram, would take control of the armies of Muang Surin and Muang Sangkha. Phraya Ratchanikun and Phraya Rongmuang were ordered first to suppress


 

181 Toem (1970) (T), p. 301.

182 Tcem (1970) (T), pp. 255, 258, 261. This oral tradition is confirmed by a contemporary official document, Chotmaihet kiaokap khamen lae yuan nai ratchakan thi sam (1970) (T), pp. 145- 146. See also Chotmaihet yo Muang wiangchan (1969) (T), pp. 137,148.

183 Khamphon (1936) (T), p. 133. For the resistance of Muang Vang Vieng, see Sance (1978) (T), pp. 161, 167. During the 1840s, the following towns continued their resistance, in defiance of Bangkok: Muang Huaphan Ha Thang Hok, Muang Phuan, Muang Mahachai, Milang Khamkeut, Milang Khammuan, Milang Vang, Muang Phoong, Muang Chumphol (the last two are on the border of Champassak), and Muang Tapon, as well as other towns on the eastern shore of the Mekong. See Chotmaihet kiaokap khamen lae yuan nai ratchakan thi sam (1970) (T), pp. 91-95.

 


44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
rebels at Muang Khmer Padong, and then to join with Phraya Ratchasuphawadi [Bodin].
Together they would launch an assault on Muang Passak [Champassak] and then
rejoin the army of the center [Bowon's] at Muang Vientiane.184

While the rumor spread that Lao commander Chao Yo was about to take over
Battambang and capture Sawaichit, the Siamese forces of Phraya Ratchanikun
passed through the Cardamom mountain range to enter Sawaichit on March
30, 1827. They did not encounter any Lao. Cambodian contingents drafted
along the march from the Khmer confines of Surin and Sangkha reinforced
the Siamese troops.185 The
conscription of troops from the local population by Siamese armies had its
precedents. Even as early as King Taksin's reign (1767-1781), Siam conscripted
troops from as far away as the Siamese territory of Phitsanulok in order to quell
an uprising of the Lao-Khmer rulers of Champassak and Nang Rong.186

The loyalty of local rulers was another issue monitored by Siamese leaders.
In this instance, the presence of Phraya Ratchanikun in the area indicates
that the Bangkok court was concerned that the allegiance of the local ruling
elite might incline to the Lao rebel force. 187 They were right to be concerned.
When Phraya Krai Songkhram of Khukhan chose to side with Anou, Bangkok
responded bitterly to his perceived defection. Siam's envoy, Phraya Ratchanikun,
strove to divert the population fleeing in the direction of Cambodia, where they
hoped to escape the fighting on the Khorat Plateau, and to turn that stream of
refugees towards Siam.188 By May, Phraya Ratchanikun, Phraya Chanthabun,
and Phraya Rongmuang had advanced to Sangkha, where they threatened Chao
Yo's forces camping at Sisaket. 189 On May 1, 1827, the troops of the governor
of Khorat headed towards Sisaket to assist the Siamese forces.

Bodin, in command of the operations, was informed of the Lao positions by a
deserter, and it appears that he received his information on or before April 6, 1827.
Lao forces were located along an arc running from west to east along the line
Phimai- Khon Kaen Udon. The objective of these forces was to protect Ubon
and Champassak from Thai attacks. Tissa and one thousand men were at Roi-Et.
The town of Suwannaphum, located on the front-line of the Lao disposition, was
in greater danger of immediate attack, yet was defended by only seven hundred
indigenous troops commanded by local elites, including the ratsavong of
Suwannaphum and Thao Fai (the governor of Khemmarat's son).19( Chao
Thong and Chao Yo were at

184 Ruam riiang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 40.

185 TNL Document Rama III (53) 1189/11; Document Rama III (10) 1189/20; Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching.

186 Chotmaihet nakhon ratchasima (1985) (T), pp. 277-278; loyaux mentions a campaign conducted in 1775 by Rama I "against the Lao at Nang Rong.' Joyaux (1967), p. 95.

187 Ruam riiang Muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 39.

188 TNL Document RamaIII (75) 1189/11 ngu.

189 TNL Document Rama III (75) 1189/11 ngu; Document Rama III (71) 1189/11 chan.

190 The governor of Suwannaphum did not number among the local elites defending the locality because he had sided with Siam and fought Anou's forces at Thong Samrit and Mun Kheng.

 


44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
Sompoi, in the Sisaket area, with five to six thousand men.191
The Lao deserter apparently knew less about the situation in
Tissa's area than in the far south, which helps explain Bodin's
initial failures in the south. At Yasothon, a town ignored by
the deserter, the upparat and the ratsavong, assisted by two
of Anou's sons, Chao Pane and Chao Suvan, hastily built up
defensive works in preparation for Bodin's troops. 192 A
dispatch from the headquarters of Phraya Ratchanikun noted that
Tissa had two thousand troops, and that the Chao Yo-Chao Thong
forces, also numbering two thousand, were allocated between
Sompoi in Sisaket and the eleven camps in Ubon.193

Bodin aimed his first blow at Suwannaphum, which he called
"a prosperous town in terms of supplies, capable of replenishing
a large army." It was also capable, apparently, of supplying
new manpower to the Thai, for men from Suwannaphum were drafted
to rebuild the regular army units that had been engaged in the
Thong Samrit and Mun Kheng battles.194
It was at this time, while Bodin's troops were being
reinvigorated, that the general wrote the now infamous, possibly
apocryphal, letter to Chao Tissa, a letter that has been accepted
as evidence that the Thai commander successfully persuaded
Tissa to betray his own family and join the Siamese. The letter
sent from Bodin to Tissa stated the following:

When Chao Maha Upparat [Tissa] came down to Krungthep [Bangkok],
he informed us [Bodin and the Siamese court] that Anou would
revolt. That has finally occurred. Now, I [Bodin] am on my way
[to suppress it] and want Chao Maha Upparat to attack Vientiane
so as to enable the central army [Bowon's forces] to progress
with ease. I myself will direct my army to enhance [Tissa's
deeds].195 
 
Thai historiography and standard Lao history textbooks
attribute the failure of the Lao insurrection to Tissa's betrayal,
claiming that he revealed the Lao timetable and strategies to the
Thai. The theory that Tissa colluded with the enemy is supported
by Tissa's sudden flight from Yasothon to Nong Han after Bodin's
intervention, and by this dubious letter, which is the only
concrete evidence that Tissa had allied with the Siamese. It is
possible Tissa was disgruntled and dissatisfied with the endeavors
of Chao Anou and Ratsavong.196 Possibly he felt some kinship with
the Thai, for one
______________________________
191 Ruam rilang milang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 38.
Suwannaphum was located at the crossroads of the trail coming
from Khorat via Phimai, and another trail crossing Ubon-
Sisaket-Roi-Et-Kalasin-Sakon Nakhon.
192 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 243.
193 TNL Document Rama ill (75) 1189/11 ngu.
194 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 238.
195 Kulap (1971) (T), pp. 240-241; Thiphakorawong (1961) (T),
pp. 55-56; gila (1969) (L), pp. 43-
44.
196 One source claims "Chao Upparat [Tissa] advised the king
[Anou], his elder brother, and Chao Ratsavong, his cousin,
to renounce their project, because he said it was just a personal
grudge between Chao Ratsavong and Phra Banthun [Bowon]. Phra
Nangklao [Rama ill] still had good relations with their country.
Furthermore, it [Laos] had just attained tranquillity. Neither
of them listened to him. ...Chao Maha Upparat, seeing that
hostilities were going to break out in the kingdom [of Laos],
went to Siam. During his trip, he took the route by way of
Song-Lampat and Muang Kabin[buri]." Traduction de l'histoire
de Vien-chan, pp.19-20.

 



44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
must note that Lao rulers were raised, educated, and groomed in Bangkok, and
therefore closely intermingled with their Siamese peers in their youth.

Yet scholars must question the veracity of this correspondence, and indeed,
a close examination of the movements of Tissa and Bodin suggests that it was
written by Bodin himself to encourage dissension within the Lao camp by
reviving Anou's suspicions of his half-brother. Bodin was a well-known
political manipulator and is suspected of having sent similar letters to other
Lao leaders. For instance, it is likely that after the fall of Vientiane, he sent
misleading letters meant to provoke conflict between Chao Anou and his
chief lieutenant, Chao Ratsavong, while they were both exiled in a Vietnamese
border town. Later, in 1837, Bodin authored dubious letters pitting the
Vietnamese at Pursat against their own leaders. 197

A strict chronology of the movement of troops on both sides helps solve
this historical enigma. A prisoner who had been detained in Tissa's camp
throughout the conflict testified to Siamese intelligence officers upon his
release that:

In the beginning of [April 18271, three cavalrymen, all of whom were Vientiane Lao,
brought news hastily to Tissa [at his camp at Suwannaphuml that the royal army
[of Bangkok] was advancing on Khorat. Anou retreated to Vientiane and ordered
the Upparat [Tissal to rapidly fall back also. The Upparat [Tissal left [Suwannaphum]
the same day, and reached Roi-Et by a march of three nights, and Kalasin after two
nights walk.198

Bodin himself described a similar scenario: "Chao Upparat [Tissa] took up a position
at Yasothon, where Chao Anou sent him a letter in which he ordered him to bring
troops to protect the road to Suwannaphum by which the enemy could come from
Kabin."199 Tissa's choice of Kalasin as the place to face the Siamese was auspicious
because he had begun his career as a 'rebel" against Bangkok in this same location.
Following this more precise itinerary, we see that it would have been impossible
for Bodin to have sent a letter to Tissa. Tissa left Suwannaphum before Bodin
arrived in Khorat, and when Bodin reached Roi-Et, Tissa was already stationed
at Kalasin. Thus, Bodin's letter is a red herring, a hoax that generations have
used to make Tissa the scapegoat for the entire lost war and to sharpen divisions
among the Lao. There is other evidence as well leading us to conclude that
Tissa's movements in this campaign were directed by Anou's general staff, not
by a Thai commander. We note a Siamese army dispatch that reads: "Ai Upparat
[Tissa] has received a mission to separate [from Anou in Khorat] to go to protect
dan thang laY tambon."200 In this message, the derogatory prefix Ai is used in
reference to Tissa, implying        that in the eyes of the Siamese officials, Tissa
was classed equally with Anou, Ratsavong, and other Lao.201

197 Vella (1957), p. 103.

198 TNL Document Rama III (84) 1189/11 ching.

199 Bodin here confuses Yasothon with Kalasin. Kalasin is on the Suwannaphum road,

200 Dan thang lai tambon means "the crossroads giving access to the road toward th.e , districts." Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 47.

201 See this letter from the Thai Foreign Minister to his Vietnamese counterpart, in Riiang Nakhon Ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 4243.

 


44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
Tissa had received a mission from Anou to take conunand of the
Sakon Nakhon- Nong Han zone, and to leave defense of the area
stretching from Suwannaphum to Sisaket to his relative, Chao
Thong.202 Kalasin was merely a stopping-point for Tissa. While
he was still there, Bodin sent Phraya Suphan to chase him, but to
Bodin's surprise, Tissa mounted stiff resistance to the repeated
attacks of Siamese troops. Tissa disengaged when Thai
reinforcements arrived, and was forced to abandon at Kalasin
twenty-three hundred Surin and Nang Rong locals whom he had
originally intended to bring to Vientiane.203

An abrupt order emanating from Bowon criticized Bodin for
having failed to capture the Lao leaders, Tissa, Yo, and Thong.204
This recorded critique directly contradicts Bodin's war memoirs,
for in his memoirs Bodin claimed he had exterminated Chao Thong's
troops in three hours at Srakeo, located two nights' walk from
Phimai.205 The Srakeo battle, however, may have been another
of Bodin's fictitious inventions, and indeed a consideration of the
logistics indicates that it was. While Bodin attempted to enter Khorat,
Chao Thong was nowhere near Srakeo, but was at Kalasin with Tissa.106
And when Bodin left Khorat for Phuthaisong, Chao Thong was already
posted at Sisaket with Chao Yo to protect Ubon.207 Given these facts,
Bodin's claim that he had successfully defeated Chao Thong appears
to have been fabricated.
On May 2,1827, the same day he sent Phraya Suphan to Kalasin to combat
Tissa, Bodin traveled to Yasothon from Roi-Et.208 Bodin recalled the two-day
battle of Yasothon and the punishment inflicted on its people for having
resisted for two days:

The upparat and the ratsavong of Yasothon vigorously defended their town.
It was only after two days of struggle that I could capture the camp of Yasothon.
The Thai soldiers captured the families of the upparat and the ratsavong [of
Yasothon], who had willingly taken the side of Chao Anou. The members of
these two families totaled 160 persons. Phraya Ratchasuphawadi [Bodin]
ordered these 160 persons, who were the Lao prisoners in revolt, burned alive. 209

202 Ruam Ruang Nakhon Ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 38.

203 TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama III (88) 1189/11 ching.

204 TNL Document RamaIII (86) 1189/ 11 ching.

205 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 240.

206 Chotmaihet rilang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 16.

207 Ruam Riiang Nakhon Patchasima (1968) (T), p. 38.

208 TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching; Document Rama III (88) 1189/11 ching.

209 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 243; Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 56. It seems that this is the same event which Bodin reported in his dispatch to the general staff of Bowon: "Ai Phap of Muang Fi [Muang Champassak], Ai Muang Chai as well as Ai Khun Cha of Muang Yasothon have managed to escape. Only their spouses and children have been captured and are condemned to be burnt alive." Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 129. Another source gives such a different version that it may be about another event in the same town. See Phongsawadan muang yasothon (1969) (T), pp. 77-78. In any case, such cruelty was unfortunately a common practice in this part of the world. For instance, in neighboring Burma, wives, children and parents of deserters were subjected to similar acts of brutality. Sangermano (1966), p. 100. Were members of Tissa's family also burnt with the families of Yasothon's rulers? Prachit Surisak, until 1975 the chief librarian of the National Library of the Kingdom of Laos and a PhD candidate working on Chao Anou's history, believes so. Interview with Prachit Surisak, Vientiane, September

18, 1983.

 


44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
The "Lao prisoners in revolt" were mostly women and children
of the families of the upparat and the ratsavong, but this had
became a common phrase used by the Bangkok establishment
after 1779 to refer to any Lao.210 Bodin, thereafter known as the
"butcher of Yasothon,"211 left that town on May 20, 1827.212
His fiery actions failed to pay dividends. Rather than demoralizing
Lao resistance, as Bodin may have intended, his methods
engendered stiffer resistance.

While Phraya Ratchanikun and Bodin moved their forces toward
Sisaket, the governor of Khorat also moved in the direction of
Sisaket on May 1, 1827. On May 13, he entered Surin, and then
headed toward Sisaket, both towns that Chao Yo had burnt before
his withdrawal from them.213 On May 21, 1827, the governor of
Khorat arrived in Ubon. There the forces of Bodin ran away when
confronting Chao Yo's troops.214 Bodin, with about fifteen
thousand to twenty thousand men and superior firepower,215
forced some inhabitants of Hernmarat (now Khemmarat) who were
in the Lao-fortified camp of Ubon to open its gates.216 Chao Yo
and his supporters escaped and barely made it to Champassak,
only to discover that town's gates closed to them because of
pressure from Bodin and the governor of Khorat. Champassak
itself was on fire, which the rulers of Mukdahan, in a letter to Anou,
formally accused Bodin of igniting.217 Bodin ordered the descendants
of the former royal house of Champassak, who were themselves
evicted by Bangkok a decade earlier, to pursue Chao Yo and his
brothers, Pane and Suvan. These Lao leaders were captured

210 Anou himself was considered a "Lao prisoner in revolt" by Princess Narinthonthewi, Rama I's sister.

211 "Paya-meh-tap, the Siamese commander-in-chief, not only endeavoured to enrich himself with immense spoils, but committed the most horrible acts of cruelty, butchering all, without regard to sex and age. And whenever this was found too tedious, he shut up a number of victims together and then set fire to the house or blew it up with gun-powder." Gutzlaff (1834), p. 77.

212 TNL Document Rama HI (86) 1189/11 ching.

213 TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching.

214 TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching. Rodin reported to Bowon: "Ai Pasak [Chao Yo of Champassak] orderedni Tun and Ai Muang Khuk [governor of Muang Khuk] to set up camp at Thong Mon. Phraya Ratchasuphawadi inflicted on them a heavy defeat. Then Ai Pasak assigned Ai Tun, Ai Muang Chan and Ai Phagna Chan to establish four camps at Ban Yoo with four thousand men. When Phraya Ratchasuphawadi approached with his [forces], the Lao fell back to Ban Na Kham [now Savannakheti, where they were defeated by the troops of Phraya Thatsada Chaturung and the Lao of Henunarat [Khernmarat]." Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1978) (T), v. 3, p. 12,5.

215 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 24; TNL Document Rama III (27) 1189/10, vol. 11, khun; Document Rama III (75) 1189/11 ching.

216 TNL Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching.

217 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 23. In this report, however, the governor of Khorat deflected responsibility for the arson onto the "people of Sisaket," who actually had been removed from their hometown by Chao Yo and taken to Champassak. Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 125.

 


44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
in a Lao Theung village near the source of the river, Se Bang Liang.218
"Yo, his family, his goldsmiths, and his blacksmiths were conducted to
Bangkok" reported the chroniclers of Champassak.

Eager to compliment the king, Rama 111, for his generosity, the
chroniclers reported that he had amply rewarded the main captor,
Chao Hui, for capturing Chao Yo: "For his brilliant conduct, the king
of Siam placed Chao Hui at the head of Nakhon Champassak and
gave him the seven wives belonging to Yo as a gift. Chao Nak,
brother of Chao Hui, was made upparat [of Champassak]".219
This report is untrue, however, for indeed most of the women were
given to Rama III and high- ranking officials in Bangkok. Furthermore,
Chao Hui was not even granted the title 'king of Champassak," but
rather that of "offspring of the king of Champassak.'

In this way, the Champassak that Anou and his son, Chao Yo, had
attempted to reconstruct was wiped from the map. After its incineration,
Champassak's former site was referred to as Muang Kao or "Old Town,"
while a new Champassak was reconstructed elsewhere.

After the destruction of Champassak, Bodin dispatched some troops
to take Muang Khong,220 the biggest island (eighteen by twelve
kilometers) on the Mekong River, located two hundred kilometers south
of Champassak.221 He also sent six hundred soldiers to attack Tham
Tha-A before he came to rest at Nakhon Phanom, where he hoped to
discover Anou and Chao Ratsavong.222 instead of confronting these
two Lao leaders, however, Bodin encountered Vietnamese envoys from
the court of Hue. This began a new phase in an already confusing war
and coincided with another major event: the surrender of Tissa. Bodin
recalled in his war memoirs that as he went to Vientiane to report to
Bowon the end of his campaign on the Khorat Plateau and the arrival
of the Vietnamese envoys, he met Tissa. As mentioned above, Bodin
reported that Tissa not only surrendered but also defected.

Bodin took credit for Tissa's supposed surrender and defection, when
actual events contradict his self-serving account. After the Lao
campaign failed, Tissa took refuge in Lakhon [Nakhon Phanorn]. He was
unable to meet Anou, who had already fled from Mahachai-Kong Kaeo.
As Siamese troops neared Lakhon, Tissa escaped to Nam Khang Thon,
while his troops, commanded by Phagna Bon, were defeated at Muang
Suang. At this point, Bowon sent Chao Menh, Tissa's son, with a monk
to plead with Tissa, and at the same time, also sent a flotilla of fourteen
pirogues to capture hixn. This maneuver succeeded. 223

218 TNL Document Rama III (44) 1189/4 khai; Document Rama III (86) 1189/11 ching.

219 Archaimbault (1961), p. 267; Reinach (1911), p. 2. For Chao Hui's attitude, see the study written by his descendant, Nhouy Abhay (1948).

220 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 23.

221 Toem (1970) (T), p. 132.

222 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 23.

223 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 26, 67, 78, 99, 101, records various sources, including Phagna Phan Na, the ratsabut [an official] of Khamkeut, and other Lao officials, as giving identical testimonies. See also the version of the Phun viang chronicle reflecting the common wisdom, in Dhawaj (1982) (T), p. 43.

 


44. OMISSIONS IN BODIMS WAR MEMOIRS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT TISSA'S LOYALTY

 
Though Bowon was not completely satisfied with Bodin's performance
during the 1827 campaign, he nevertheless recommended Bodin for
promotion following these events.224

 


224 Chotmaihet rilang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 50. For Bowon's complaints about the poor performance of his

officers, see Kulap (1971) (T), p. 298. Bodin's performance in another campaign in the late 1830s also received criticism. Bodin

"displayed little military imagination..., and his stubbornness... only resulted in heavy casualties among his troops." Eiland (1989),

p. 157. Yet Bodin was Rama III's closest client and would remain an important ally as this king struggled to maintain his grasp on power.

 

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